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Jerome H. Lemelson

AKA Jerome Hal Lemelson

Born: 18-Jul-1923
Birthplace: New York City
Died: 1-Oct-1997
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: Cancer - Liver

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Inventor, Business

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Inventor with a very good lawyer

Military service: US Army Air Corps (WWII)

Inventor Jerome H. Lemelson studied engineering at New York University, then worked at a copper smelting company through most of the 1950s before he was able to support himself and his family through his patents. He held more than 600 patents, and it is widely claimed (but almost as widely disputed) that he invented essential components of automatic teller machines, automatic warehousing systems, bar code readers, camcorders, computer hard drives, cordless telephones, fax machines, industrial robots, injection molding, integrated circuits, personal computers, rechargeable batteries, the Sony Walkman, video-cassette recorders, word processing systems, and much, much more.

In patent applications filed in the 1950s, Lemelson described robots that could perform such industrial duties as riveting, quality inspection, measuring, and welding. He envisioned a "flexible manufacturing system" involving machines with built-in cameras and "machine vision" -- the ability to analyze and respond to what the robot "sees" in this digitized imagery. Lemelson did not manufacture these robots or construct a working model, but decades later, as technological advances allowed such machinery to be built, manufacturers who had never heard of Lemelson were served with legal claims by his attorney. Daimler-Benz Chrysler, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Motorola, Nissan, and Toyota were among the companies which paid substantial settlements to Lemelson.

The toymaker Mattel refused to pay, when Lemelson claimed that the flexible track used for the company's Hot Wheels toy cars had first been described in one of his patents. Instead Mattel fought Lemelson in court, in a legal battle which stretched on for more than twenty years. At one point Lemelson was awarded $71M, but he subsequently lost the case on appeal and received nothing. Ford was another company that for years litigated against Lemelson. In a 1996 verdict a judge struck down all of Lemelson's claims, effectively severing his patents for everything related to machine vision and bar codes. Then, in a headline-making reversal a year later, the same judge reversed his own decision, and reinstated Lemelson's patents. Cognex Corporation, a supplier of machine vision systems, filed suit against the Lemelson Foundation in 1998, and in 2004 a federal court ruled that 76 claims under Lemelson's patents for machine vision were unenforceable.

Some critics dismissed Lemelson as more a "patent rustler" or science fiction writer than an actual inventor. Others remember him as an American hero, as much for his tenacity in fighting for his legal rights as for his innovations. He dedicated much of his wealth to helping other inventors in what he viewed as a battle against corporate thieves, and established the Lemelson Foundation, which works to encourage and reward innovation, and carries on Lemelson's work of suing over perceived patent infringement. The Foundation gave more than $10M to the Smithsonian Institution to create the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, and established the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA). The Foundation also provides funding for the Lemelson-MIT Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and underwrites its annual half-million-dollar Lemelson-MIT Prizes given to outstanding inventors.

Brother: Howard Lemelson (electrical engineer, b. 1925)
Brother: Justin Lemelson
Wife: Dorothy Ginsberg Lemelson (interior designer, m. 1954)
Son: Eric Lemelson (winemaker, b. 1959)
Son: Robert Lemelson (anthropologist, b. 1961)

    University: BS Aeronautical Engineering, New York University (1947)
    University: MS Aeronautical Engineering, New York University (1949)
    University: MS Industrial Engineering, New York University (1951)

    Hungarian Ancestry
    Jewish Ancestry

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