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Focus on a Career Engineer

chapter thirteen
Retirement Years [1973-1982]

Before I retired from RCA, I had been asked to write a book on color television picture tubes. Such a project was more than I was willing to undertake, but I did agree to collaborate with three other RCA men to write it. The book was finished in 1973 and published by Academic Press in 1974, under the title Color Television Picture Tubes. The authors were named in order as A. M. Morrell, H[arold]. B. Law, E[dward] .G. Ramberg, E. W. Herold, which is in increasing age, so that the younger ones would have the longer time to benefit from the authorship. My own contribution was Chapters 1, 2, and 3, but I edited the other parts as well. Our book was, and still is, the only definitive one on the subject; I believe that Academic Press sold all of their print order so that the book is now out of print.

Early in 1974, I was asked to give the main invited paper at the May meeting of the Society for Information Display, in San Diego, entitled “History and Development of the Color Picture Tube.” (See Appendix IV.) I presented the paper on May 21, to considerable acclaim; the paper was subsequently published in both the Journal of the Society and in the RCA Engineer.

Now that I was retired, I was free for consulting work. The Department of Defense asked me to again join the Advisory Group on Electron Devices (AGED), this time with a modest consulting fee. I did rejoin in 1973 and, of course, continued as Chairman of the Board of the Palisades Institute, the Secretariat organization. In 1976, I took on the chairmanship of AGED for a year (I had been chairman once before in my earlier years with them). I then resigned so as to open up a slot for someone younger and more active in current research. Another consulting job came (p. 69) to me from the U.S. Army Electronics Command, in the field of displays; I studied their problem, completing the assignment in June 1974.

In September 1974, the Dean of Engineering at the University of Delaware asked me to join a Search Committee to advise on candidates for the head of their Electrical Engineering Department. I had a large collection of biographical data on outstanding engineers, which came from many years of Awards work for IEEE. I think I was very helpful to the University. The man finally selected was a Princeton Ph.D. whom I knew well and strongly recommended. To my surprise, the University paid me for my time on this. In contrast, when I did a similar job in 1980 for Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, I was given only travel expenses.

When I left RCA, I made it clear that I’d enjoy patent experting so, when I had a call in January 1975 from a Washington lawyer, I wasn’t too surprised that he’d gotten my name from someone at RCA. The litigation involved a Zenith patent on an improvement in color picture tubes, which it was asserting against several Japanese companies (RCA was not involved because it had a license). One company, Toshiba, filed a court suit asking for a declaratory judgment that the Zenith patent was invalid. The lawyer who called me, Ed McKie, represented Toshiba; he came to see me to explain the case. In about five minutes, I saw that the prior art he had already found should be enough to invalidate the patent, so I agreed to be the expert witness. The trial was set for March, in the Federal court in Wilmington, Delaware. After several trips to Washington, I assembled all the references and worked steadily to prepare the technical part of the case.

The background of the patent in suit was as follows. The first color picture tubes were all (p. 70) made by Harold Law’s shadow-mask process, in which the tiny phosphor dots on the screen were all touching each other, i.e., they covered the entire screen and made it appear white. In reflected room light, this reduced the picture contrast so, to overcome this, dark glass was used for the picture tube face. However, such dark glass reduced picture brightness. In 1964, two Zenith employees, Kaplan and Fiore, were issued a patent on a color screen in which the color phosphor dots were smaller and did not touch, and the areas separating them were coated with black. The result was to eliminate the need for dark glass so as to increase the brightness. After about 1969, all color picture tubes throughout the world were made this way, so Zenith had a big stake in the outcome of the trial. My job was to show that the idea was obvious, based on well-known procedures at the time the alleged invention was made; hence, the patent was invalid. Zenith admitted that the use of black areas in uncoated parts of a color tube screen had already been invented many years before, by a Philco inventor, Bingley. Zenith contended, however, that this prior use was on an entirely different kind of color tube, that it wasn’t obvious to apply it in the particular way used by Toshiba and covered by the Zenith patent. We had to show that it was obvious and that the only reason the idea hadn’t been used until 1969 in shadow-mask tubes was the increased expense in manufacture.

After studying the material, I was able to show that the Toshiba tube, alleged to be infringing, and other tubes like it, could be designed using only published papers of as far back as 1951 and 1952 (Harold Law’s early paper and a publication of Kaplan, one of the Zenith inventors), and use of the Bingley black areas. My mathematical study, made with an H-P [Hewlett Packard] calculator, was too complex to use in court, but it laid the foundation for my testimony, in which I proved that the prior art made the Zenith idea obvious. (p. 71)

The trial was short, but exciting. It started March 3 and ended March 11, 1975. It was the first patent case ever tried before this particular judge but he was intensely interested and attentive. He issued his long and detailed opinion in November and, as we had hoped, he understood our arguments and declared the Zenith patent invalid for obviousness. The decision was upheld on appeal. Thus, Toshiba v. Zenith was my third patent case, all winners. In later years, when I was asked to consider helping on a patent case, I decided not to accept unless I was sure the case could be won.

The Toshiba–Zenith trial was still fresh in memory when I was asked to work on another case, RCA v. General Motors, in the field of transistors. In our 1952 Symposium, we had demonstrated for the first time the applications of complementary symmetry, i.e., interconnection of NPN and PNP transistors, an invention of George Sziklai. Sziklai’s patent was issued in 1960 and, starting in 1964, every General Motors auto radio used the idea. About 5 million sets were manufactured per year. Although others took out an RCA license, GM did not, claiming the patent was invalid, that it had technical errors in it, and that RCA had been dilatory in bringing action against them. RCA again used John Farley, the lawyer in the Tiley–Law case, as trial counsel. To avoid the RCA policy of not employing retirees, I became consultant to Farley’s law firm, Fish and Neave. It was an easy case for me to understand because my group had supplied the transistors to Sziklai and I was closely associated with the invention. However, there was some merit in the GM argument about technical errors. The patent application had been filed hastily, the inventor had been careless about reading it in detail, and transistor operation was not well understood by the patent attorney who filed the case. I believed that these matters were easily understood by anyone skilled in the art and would not sustain the argument of invalidity.

(p. 72)

However, the germanium transistors which we made in 1952 were not uniformly high in quality and, for some circuits in the patent, transistors had to be selected if the particular results described (for illustrative purposes) were to be obtained. My work was to prove that the idea had not been anticipated and that the experimental results mentioned in the patent were, indeed, obtained with the devices available at the time.

I suspect that the chief aim of GM was to delay the proceedings by a deluge of paper work, called interrogatories. These are questions put by one side to the other; there are hundreds of them, often resulting in thousands of pages of paper in response. We fed GM our share of interrogatories in return—I had about six file drawers full of references, GM data, and analyses of my own. One of our most difficult problems was finding transistors like the ones the inventor had used in 1952. We bought many hundreds of obsolete types from specialty firms who handled such items; I tested them all to find units which would give the results of the patent. I borrowed equipment from RCA and set up a laboratory in my basement. I also studied about six different GM auto radios on which I took data to prove our contentions. By 1978, after three years of work (not full time, of course), I had everything well established, had duplicated Sziklai’s own experiments and was reasonably sure we would win the case. To my dismay, RCA decided to settle with GM for several million dollars, a sum I considered too small, and I was deprived of another exciting trial. RCA had also filed suit against the U.S. government on the same patent, and I worked on this for another year, mainly to find out how many infringements there were, so that the settlement reached would be equitable. In the meantime, the patent had expired (the monopoly lasts for 17 years) so no more litigation will ensue. (p. 73)

In January of 1979, I did a consulting job for Bendix in which I was asked to compare the theoretically attainable performance of two kinds of color tube display for airplane cockpits. This took me only a month; I wrote a report I believe was complete and accurate. Bendix was competing for the contract for the new line of Boeing commercial planes, but they did not win, although they assured me that my work had been of great help and that the loss was because of other considerations. From this point on, although I continued to have some modest income from minor consulting jobs and from Palisades Institute, there have been no major consulting activities. I turned down two patent litigation offers, one because I thought it would lose, the other because the travel involved did not appeal to me. As I write this, at age 75, I believe it unlikely that I will be called on much more in the future.

In 1976, I was greatly honored when the IEEE awarded me its Founders Medal, one of the five major awards of the Institute. The gold medal is somewhat massive and remains in my safe-deposit box, but I have a bronze replica at home. One result of the award was that my name was added to Who’s Who in America, appearing for the first time in the 1978–1979 edition. It’s only fair to say that, in Princeton, being in Who’s Who is not so unusual. In the country as a whole, the Who’s Who names represent only 0.03% of the nation’s population but, in Princeton, the ratio is more likely to be about 1%.

From 1975 to 1977, I was appointed to represent the IEEE on the Board of the Engineering Foundation, a non-profit entity which finances research grants to various universities. I became Chairman of the Program Committee which selected the best projects out of the hundreds of applications each year. It represented a great deal of work to read all the material, but it had (p. 74) the reward of outlining many novel ideas in other fields of engineering than my own. However, this took so much time and it was so frustrating to examine so many more projects than there were funds to support them that I decided not to continue.

This brings me to the end of my story. How do I feel about my life? Would I, or should I, have done things differently? In retrospect, of course, there are events and actions that might have been improved upon. But, without hindsight, knowing only what I knew at the time, I don’t think I would change things very much. So, I have few regrets and many happy memories.

[ADDENDUM: Please read Appendix IV (a copy of my paper on the Color Picture Tube). Of all the technical activities with which I was involved, this one has affected the largest number of persons.

Also, please read Appendix V, an editorial which I wrote for the IEEE Spectrum in 1970. In it I express a sociological opinion of the electronic era of which I was a part. It may well be more important than anything else in this book.]

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