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With Time naming the Sony Walkman as one of the top 100 gadgets of all time and since Sony has stopped manufacturing and selling its Walkman, it seems appropriate to look at the long patent litigation over this iconic technology.
As a child, I remember receiving my first Walkman and using it primarily to listen to “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis or the Best of Lynryd Skynyrd while mowing the lawn (yeah, I guess I was a little out of the ordinary). What had been monotony was now a journey–albeit a noisy one–through the soundscapes of great musicians. The power of music to transport one’s self to another place while doing just about anything remains as powerful to me today as it was back then.
Feel free to pop on your Men at Work cassette as we remember the lawsuits and the (now archaic looking) patents related to the Walkman.
Back in 2004, a lawsuit between an independent inventor and Sony was settled after 25 years of contentious history. It all began when Andreas Pavel filed a patent for his “stereobelt” in 1977 in Italy (followed by applications in multiple countries including United States, Germany, England and Japan). Granted patent US 4,412,106 (which is a continuation of Ser. No. 47,967 filed June 12, 1979) has the following abstract:
An audio system for portable high fidelity reproduction, to provide a sensation of being surrounded by a three-dimensional field of lifelike sound events, comprises a set of miniaturized electro-acoustical devices adapted to each other and for battery-operated high fidelity reproductions and designed to be supported by or built into an interconnecting belt-like garment, so as to be worn in contact with the listener’s body without causing any discomfort or encumbrance…
Upon listening to a prototype of the device, Pavel knew he had something special:
I was in the woods in St. Moritz, in the mountains. The snow was falling down. I pressed the button, and suddenly we were floating. It was an incredible feeling, to realize that I now had the means to multiply the aesthetic potential of any situation.
Who among us didn’t have that feeling the first time they got their first portable music player?
Getting back to the Walkman controversy…Sony started selling the Walkman in 1979 and began negotiating a royalty arrangement with Pavel in 1980. After six years, all Pavel had to show for his invention was a handful of royalty agreements, and even then only in Germany.
Seeing further remuneration, Pavel continued suing Sony, eventually having the case dismissed in 1996 at which point he owed multi-millions in lawyers fees. He continued, however, and won an out of court settlement in 2003 that reportedly covered his fees as well as providing him some deserved income from his invention.
Do you have any fond memories of your first Walkman? Share with us in the comments!
This post was edited by Intellogist Team member Chris Jagalla. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company, Landon IP, a major provider of patent search, technical translation, and information services.