Tuesday, June 17, 2014 | 2 a.m.
In 1990, Gilbert Hyatt catapulted from unknown inventor to the father of personal computers.
After 20 years of court battles and patent applications, Hyatt was awarded U.S. Patent No. 4,942,516 for his single-chip integrated circuit computer architecture. The resulting single-chip microcontroller is used in electronics like digital cameras and watches.
The patent not only brought Hyatt millions of dollars, it also meant his design for the microchip was the backbone for most modern technology.
After winning the patent, Hyatt moved to Las Vegas to continue inventing, but controversy and court battles have followed ever since. His patent was overturned five years later in a decision that claimed Texas Instruments engineer Gary Boone had designed it first, but not before it was stamped on Playstations, camcorders and digital cameras.
Meanwhile, California tax officials tried to collect on Hyatt's earnings despite his move to Nevada. Hyatt fought back, winning a $388 million settlement, which is pending a ruling in the Nevada Supreme Court. Still, his inventions and court rulings have shaped the technological landscape.
Today, he resides in Las Vegas, where he splits his time between court cases on two pending patents more than 40 years old and inventing new technology.
The Sun caught up with the inventor about the microcontroller, court cases and Las Vegas’ tech potential. Here is what he had to say:
What was the process of gaining the microcontroller patent like?
The Patent Office didn’t have much prior art, but they were concerned about whether I disclosed it sufficiently. I would present patent claims to the examiner, and he would give me rejections. I would have to find ways to argue the rejections were improper. It was very difficult because I was a struggling inventor at the time, and the Patent Office kept imposing hurdles for me to get over.
What is the status of your other patent applications?
I have a lot of patent applications. They were filed under special legislation that was passed in ‘94-’95, but the Patent Office has been delaying the issuance of them. They are held up in the Patent Office and have been stuck there for almost 20 years.
Can you talk about what inventions are held up by the Patent Office?
They’re kept in confidentiality, but they include display technologies, such as virtual reality and augmented reality. They involve techniques that would improve television-like better data compression that would squeeze more imagery into a broadcast; the use of display systems to permit a surgeon to operate using virtual reality.
Why do you think they’re delaying the issue of your patents?
They just don’t want to issue patents to me. I’m entitled to a patent, the statute says I’m entitled to a patent, and they’re finding all kinds of ways to keep me from getting to my entitlement.
What was it that has kept you pushing for patents?
Right now I’m trying to get reforms and trying to create a better environment for individual inventors by the challenges I’m taking on. In those days I was a struggling inventor doing all I could just to protect myself.
What else are you working on in Las Vegas?
Twelve years ago I won another unanimous Supreme Court decision, which has been said to change the face of federalism in America. It essentially said whatever Nevada is capable of legislating, it is free to legislate and control in Nevada. Therefore the project is to give special protection to different industries in Nevada to attract them here. One example is the Internet providers. They’re being taxed by the various large states. We’re working to give them a safe haven to attract them here.
What do you see for the future of Las Vegas in the tech world?
I think we have a great environment, and the best environment is the protective position. What I would like to see is to pass some legislation for a safe-haven for different types of professions such as Internet providers. By giving them protections through our state and laws, we can attract whole industries to Nevada.