State of Innovation

Patents and Innovation Economics

What the Inventor of Microcontroller Has to Say on Innovation and Patents

The IEEE oral history with Gary Boone, co-inventor of the microcontroller, has been lost for over decade but is now posted on the IEEE site.  Please read the whole oral history.  Mr. Boone has a number of interesting insights.  For instance, he states that he invented microcontroller while at Texas Instruments because of boredom.  He was working in a group designing custom Integrated Circuits (ICs).  While designing these chips he began to feel “I’m tired of doing this.  I’m working long hours.  My family is not happy.  I have to find a better way of doing this.”  He also noticed that the basic requirements for all these projects were similar and this led to the idea that a general chip that was programmable could solve multiple customers’ requirements.  He also discusses the resistance in the community to this innovation.

After inventing the microcontroller, he moved to a start-up company, Litronix, that made handheld calculators.  The company was not aggressive about filing patents.  An overseas competitor was able to drive Litronix out of the market because of the differential tax rates between the U.S. and Hong Kong, U.S. regulatory rules on consumer warranties and their weak patent portfolio. 

Because Mr. Boone was the inventor of the microcontroller, he ended being involved in numerous patent lawsuits.  This has caused him to have a unique perspective on the patent system.  One of the most interesting points he makes is that design teams often fail to review the patent literature before starting the design process.  Because of this, they often reinvent designs and reviewing patent literature results in better designs.

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September 9, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , ,

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