The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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Patent Profiteers

Acacia Technologies is laying claim to the innovations that move video and music through cyberspace. Could this tiny company be the next Internet powerhouse?

15 min read

A patent, any good patent attorney will tell you, isn't a right to do something, it's a right to keep others from doing it. If your invention is a good one, they'll pay you for the privilege of using it for the patent's 20-year life. If they don't license your patent voluntarily but apply its innovation anyway, you have two choices: back off, or sue for infringement. Which way you go depends largely on how much money you've got-if you decide to go the legalistic route, you'd better have a couple of million dollars to start you on your way.

Captain Carl Elam was an inventor with more good ideas than money. Back in 1983, repelled by what kids could watch on TV, he and another U.S. Air Force officer, Dale Leavy, designed a system that would let parents block certain types of programs. Eighteen years later, the V-chip, as such a system would come to be called, hit it big when the U.S. Congress ordered that all new televisions include content-filtering technology. By then, though, out of money, the two inventors had sold their patent. They ended up with a quarter of the fees that TV manufacturers eventually paid for licenses. Raking in most of the V-chip dough was a small band of venture capitalists at a California company called Acacia Technologies Group.

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The Transistor at 75

The past, present, and future of the modern world’s most important invention

2 min read
A photo of a birthday cake with 75 written on it.
Lisa Sheehan
LightGreen

Seventy-five years is a long time. It’s so long that most of us don’t remember a time before the transistor, and long enough for many engineers to have devoted entire careers to its use and development. In honor of this most important of technological achievements, this issue’s package of articles explores the transistor’s historical journey and potential future.

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