More than four decades ago, inventor Gilbert Hyatt dipped into science fiction and designed a computer-controlled system to operate machine tools on production lines.
The company he had at the time, Micro Computers Inc., is long gone. Computer-aided manufacturing has since spread so widely that even mom and pop companies have it on their shop floors.
Yet after filing for patents on his creation in 1971 and 1972, Hyatt still awaits an answer. To force the issue, he sued in U.S. District Court earlier this month requesting that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office make a decision, any decision.
What obtaining a patent would accomplish after so much time is an open question.
“I haven’t investigated yet what the value would be,” Hyatt said. “But I plan to put my patents into a philanthropic foundation.”
The 75-year-old Hyatt, an electrical engineer by training, already has more than 70 patents and continues to work in a small laboratory at his Las Vegas home that he keeps under tight wraps. His career high point probably came in 1990, when he won a two-decade battle for a patent on the single-chip microprocessor, the key component of computer chips so widely used today. However, the patent was overturned five years later after a challenge by Texas Instruments.
He has battled the patent office almost as long as he has invented. He scored a victory in one case two years ago that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, allowing him to submit new information to back a patent application after much of it had been rejected by the initial examiner and the Patent and Trademark Appeals Board. This action drew conflicting positions from tech heavyweights such as Intel Corp. and Google about whether allowing fresh evidence would disrupt getting new technology to the market.
He also won a $490 million verdict from a jury in Clark County in 2008 against the California Franchise Tax Board for abusive investigation and collection tactics. In September 1991, just before the royalties began to flow from the microprocessor patent, estimated at more than $350 million by the tax board, Hyatt moved to income-tax-free Nevada.
The tax board still tried to collect millions of dollars, contending he was still a California resident at the time.
That verdict is on appeal after argument before the Nevada Supreme Court in mid-2012.
In the most recent case, Hyatt’s attorneys want action on the two patents in question and claim the patent office has blackballed him.
“At some point, rather than subject its decisions to review, the PTO (patent office) apparently embraced a strategy of denying Mr. Hyatt any reviewable adjudication of this patent applications,” court papers state. “My Hyatt consequently has a large number of patent applications that have languished for years in various states of procedural limbo … .”
The papers cited seven other applications still awaiting final disposition since 1995.
A patent office spokesman declined to comment on the litigation.
In other cases, including the one that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, patent judges contended that Hyatt’s applications were too broad and unsubstantiated to merit a patent. Others who opposed his semiconductor patent argued that his design was largely unworkable.
But the court papers recounted a meeting between Hyatt and the director of the patent office’s technology center at an unspecified date during which Hyatt complained about the foot dragging. The papers contend that the official confirmed Hyatt was being singled out.
“The patent office has a stated policy not to issue me any more patents,” he said.
Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at email@example.com or at 702-387-5290.