|THE COMPUTER AGE
AND THE INVENTOR
by Dr Farag Moussa ©
President of the International Federation of Inventors' Assocations (IFIA)
Keynote speech given at the
International Invention Symposium
"How Invention & Innovation Open New Business"
(Hong Kong, November 27, 1998)
Different eras of political history
are frequently identified with royal dynasties, or great wars and revolutions.
Eras in the history of art and architecture may be
distinguished by styles such as Renaissance, Gothic, Impressionist or Surrealist, and so
Techniques too have marked different eras over the
centuries: from the primitive tools of the Stone Age, to the Industrial Age marked by
steam and electrical power and the discovery of turbines, and engines.
Today, we have entered a new era: the computer age
an age which owes everything to inventors.
Charles Babbage, an English mathematician, is considered
to be the great-grandfather of the computer. Over 150 years ago, in 1840 to be exact, he
invented a sophisticated calculating machine, and called it the "Analytical
Engine." As with many inventions, his creation was far in advance of its time.
It took another 100 years before the first computers were
built, and as you know, they were huge and incredibly heavy. Take, for instance, the
famous Mark I. It was the worlds first electro-mechanical computer and was used
during World War 2 by the U.S. Navy. In comparison to 20th-century systems, it could be
likened to a battleship: 2.6 meters high, 16 meters wide, 2 meters deep, and weighing a
massive 5 tons!
The machine the hardware could not develop without
the software to match, of course. In this respect, two women mathematicians played
Ada Lovelace Byron, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, wrote
in 1843 what today we'd call programs for Charles Babbages "Analytical
Engine." She was a pioneer and is considered to be the very first programmer in
history. That's why 130 years later, the U.S. Department of Defence gave her forename
Ada A-D-A to one of the most important computer programs in the
world. It is used not only by the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force but also by big industry,
universities, and other centers of research.
Grace Hopper, an American woman, invented in 1952 the very
first compiler of all times, a program which translates a programming language so that it
can be understood by computers. It was a sensational breakthrough which opened doors to
automatic programming and thus directly to contemporary personal computers (PCs).
Today, computers are at the center of thousands upon thousands of
other inventions. They are the heartbeats of the modern world. Computers are
every-where from kitchens to concrete mixers, from planes to pockets. They
listen. They speak. They act. Never in world history has one invention had such an
influence on humanity as a whole. Without the computer age, there would be no global
Internet, in particular, has created a brand new
environment. A new culture has been born free, rapid, and universal where
people share their knowledge and expertise. Information and communication techniques have
been turned upside down, distance has been eliminated, frontiers abolished. A tremendous
interactive potential is burgeoning on our planet Earth today. Like it or lump it
none can stop it!
I would like to mention something concerning
Internet. The inventors in 1990 of the World Wide Web (WWW), which revolutionized
the contemporary computer world, did not become millionaires. British Tim Berners-Lee and
Belgian Robert Caillau, both researchers at European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in
Geneva, did not make any money through their invention of the WWW. They refused to patent
it. They feared that in so doing, the use of the Web would prove prohibitively expensive
preventing its use worldwide. Thus, they passed up a fortune so that our world can learn
and communicate today, and we should be grateful to them for their foresight.
The invention of the computer with its multitude of programs and
new information technologies is transforming the traditional perception of an inventor. A
more positive image is emerging. No longer personified by an eccentric crackpot, a
crackpot male genius working alone in attic, garage or basement, today's inventors
resemble more and more millions of other scientists, industrial researchers and
entrepreneurs in workshops or laboratories surrounded by a computer station. All use the
"mouse" instead of a pencil, and their drawing boards are computer screens.
Women inventors have also contributed to this change in
the traditional image of the inventor, particularly in certain fields such as chemistry,
pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, not to speak of computer software.
In the USA, for instance, the number of women inventors
with patents in the field of chemistry increased three-and-half times during the period
from 1977 (2.8%) to 1988 (9.9%). It would be interesting indeed to see what further
increases have taken place over the past 10 years.
Another popular fallacy is not only that the large majority of
inventors are eccentric and male, but they are also perceived as being rather ancient! The
truth is that, thanks to the computer, people are actually inventing more and more at an increasingly
youthful age. In Silicon Valley, a 30-year old inventor is considered already long in
the tooth, and many newcomers to the inventive world are in their 20s. Some predict that
in a few years time, there'll be a new generation of 14-year-old millionaire inventors
appearing in Silicon Valley!
Unfortunately, this new generation of inventors women and
very young people is insufficiently present among representatives of most
inventor associations worldwide. These are still run by people who, although totally
dedicated to their work, were neither born nor grew up in the computer age. Therefore they
find adaptation difficult. Information technology frequently passes them by. This is often
a cause of very real problems.
Let's now consider some of the ways inventors can make use
of the new technologies of the computer age.
We all know that inventors need a lot of information.
Technological information contained in patent documents is essential at the very earliest
stages of invention. It can avoid duplication in research work. It can provide ideas for
further development of existing technology. It can also give a glimpse of the
technological activities of competitors. That is why Patent Offices have put their
patent documentation databases on the Internet. Access is not only fast, but easily
accessible, and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
It's also free in the sense that it doesnt cost the
inventor a single cent to consult such documentation! Time-consuming travel to Patent
Offices or libraries storing patent documents is a thing of the past. The inventor also
has access to much more data than through a single database. Obviously, the ideal is one
huge library, containing millions of patent documents from all over the world.
The European Patent Office (EPO) has tried to create this
world library of patent documents. I am glad to inform you that IFIA Web site allows
surfers to visit this EPO site, and through it, to jump to the major providers of patent
information in the world, whether they be Patent Offices or private enterprises, such as
IBM. A further advantage is the constant updating of all these databases by each of the
providers. In brief, it's sufficient to click on one address, the EPO address, to access
millions of documents: <http:www.european-patent-office.org/online/index.htm>.
For many inventors, the marketing stage often starts with a prototype
to prove that the product works satisfactorily, and what's more, works safely. The greater
a model's perfection, the greater the chances of selling a license to a manufacturer. But
a professional prototype, as close to the final product as possible, can rapidly become
One fantastic and inexpensive alternative to a physical prototype
is a computerized model. Basically, it amounts to modelling the invention from all
angles on a computer, with self-running commentary, demonstrations and animation of all
the inventions functions. The diskette or ZIP disk can be duplicated
in as many copies as necessary, and sent via regular mail.
The computerized prototype can also be loaded onto a video
tape and copies made. Busy executives prospective investors, licensees or
buyers seem, however, to prefer a diskette which is easy to put into the computer,
in addition to the fact that most offices do not have a TV and VCR. The video tape would
seem more appropriate when presenting an invention at an exhibition or fair.
On the subject of invention shows, let me stress in passing that virtual
exhibitions exist already. One of IFIA's members, the Hungarian Association of
Inventors, even launched an international competition of inventions last March with a virtual
jury, each member sitting serenely in front of his/her computer screen, somewhere
around the world.
With the computer age upon us, we are also moving slowly but
surely away from the traditional paper system of filing patent applications to the new
electronic filing system a rapid and cheap transmission system of text and
Patent Offices are now engaged in preparing the necessary tools
to assist inventors and other applicants in this form of electronic commerce.
Naturally, their Web sites will have to provide links to reference material, technical
guidelines and instructions on filing applications.
The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), administered by the World
Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, provides inventors and industry with
an advantageous route for obtaining patent protection worldwide. Starting from January 1,
1999, the PCT is offering a reduction of US$ 200 (two hundred) for every electronic
filing. That's quite an encouragement to use this system!
However, no system is perfect. It still remains a fact that
Patent Offices are faced with serious technical issues related to information security.
Namely: How to ensure the security and authenticity of the transmission and
exchange of unpublished therefore confidential data? The next question to
arise is: Who will be responsible in case of third-party intrusions? The Patent Office?
or the applicant?
Because of the international nature of the patent system, it has
been decided recently that all information security issues will be examined in the
framework of WIPO.
To better understand some of the many issues involved, I would
like to give two examples as described in a WIPO document discussed a few days ago
" ... any exchange between applicants and examiners requires
excellent levels of security and data privacy. Furthermore, many of these activities
require some assurance of the identity of one party or another. For example, if an
applicant is exchanging information with an examiner, the examiner needs to know that the
individual is indeed authorized to provide information, (e.g. proof of identity), and the
applicant needs to be confident that he or she is indeed in contact with a patent examiner
and not a clever hacker. [...]"
"The exchange of priority documents provides another
interesting example. If a priority document is to be exchanged in electronic form, it
needs to be validated by the originating party. In other words, the document needs to be
signed to demonstrate its authenticity, it needs to have a guaranteed time stamp
associated with the transaction, preferably by a third party (to prevent presumed or
actual forgery of dates and times), and it needs to have some guarantee of accuracy, so
that a party obtaining the document can tell if tampering occurred..."
Every now and then we hear some people say, "There's hardly
anything left to invent. Everything has been invented already!". What a silly
remark! You can be certain that inventors will continue inventing, and new discoveries
will be made, right up to the very last minute before the world comes to an end! But to
return to today, with the computer age, the possibilities of invention are endless and in
all possible fields.
It has also been said that the computer will eventually invent
the inventor. By that I mean that one day, the computer will replace the inventor.
Up to a point, I must agree but only to a certain extent. You can feed the computer
with billions of data. One has even beaten a world chess champion. Nevertheless, the
computer has no humanity, no imagination, no sensitivity or affectivity, and no inherent
wisdom. Can it smell the perfume of a rose? ...interpret the color of a sunrise? Can it
caress the cheek of a child? ...or savor the taste of Hong Kong's dim sum?! Above all it's
a machine a fantastic machine but remember, its only a machine.
So let's not make a new god out of the computer, as some tend to
do. But rather use its possibilities to a maximum ... and through it, try quite simply to
build a better world. That should be our motto.
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