My favorite invention?
I am often asked: “Of all the things you’ve invented, which is your favorite?” I guess my favorite invention is whatever I am currently working on. However, I can give you a few that stand out.
1. Perhaps the most successful in terms of dollars was the invention of the sealed-edge wiper – a product used to remove contamination in ultra-clean manufacturing environments such as semiconductor fabrication cleanrooms. This invention was a technological leap into the unknown on my part. I think we made the production process work through sheer force of will. The product, as far as I know, is still a best seller twenty years after its introduction. It has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and solved major contamination control problems in the semiconductor industry. It was named one of the top 20 product advances by Semiconductor International magazine when it was introduced into the semiconductor marketplace.
2. The iPad! No, only kidding. But I did invent a precursor to the iPad. In the mid 1980’s, I worked for AT&T Bell Laboratories and was given the assignment to design a portable electronic device that could be used to enter and view data at a hospital patient’s bedside. I combined technologies that were already in use – a flat screen terminal and a touchscreen – to produce what was essentially an electronic notebook. Like today’s iPad, it had an on-screen keyboard, you could write on it, and enter data via touch. This project, which involved a team of engineers and programmers to complete, was part of a large computer-based medical information storage and retrieval system for hospitals. The electronic notebook was integrated into this system both to view and input data at the patient’s bedside. In many ways, this was a product that came out before its time. Had the internet been at the level of maturity it is now, this could have been the original iPad, and gone far beyond its intended medical use. However, while the product and the entire medical information system were a great technical success, such a radical departure from the existing paper systems was not yet readily accepted within hospitals (this was the 1980s), and the project never met with commercial success. The electronic notebook or patient care terminal as we called it was patented, and even though the patent is expired, it stands as prior art to any similar invention. Every so often I get calls from attorneys requesting information (or in one case – a request to be an expert witness) for cases they are pursuing regarding similar products in this area.
3. Finally, what is sure to be my favorite invention of all time. Well, actually, it’s a reinvention. But I have to wait until it has been completely forgotten to reinvent it. I don’t know if I should reveal this publicly yet, but in several years time, I plan to invent an incredibly versatile system for recording and storing any kind of written data. The system will be lightweight, conformable enough to store in your pocket and yet flexible enough to be enlarged so you can work on it (folding and unfolding), incredibly intuitive and easy to use (no instruction manual needed), and capable of an unlimited range of written expression both text-based and graphical. The system will be able to be personalized to anyone’s style, and will serve as a tool to express individual creativity. The system is both very robust and environmentally friendly. And the cost is just pennies. You may have guessed by now what my revolutionary re-invention will be: pencil and paper.