Hyatt, Gilbert (1938- ) American Electrical Engineer, Computer Scientist

Gilbert Hyatt received recognition as the inventor of the integrated circuit microprocessor more than two decades after he first conceived of it, in 1968. Almost 20 years expired between Hyatt’s first patent application, in December 1970, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s awarding of his patent in July 1990. In the meanwhile, engineers at Intel and Texas Instruments had developed the same technology, which fueled the personal computer revolution of the 1980s by reducing the size of the necessary hardware to run a computer to the size of a single silicon chip. Subsequent appeals obscured whether Hyatt could legitimately lay claim to inventing the "computer-on-a-chip" technology (he lost on a technicality), but he retained his claims to the invention of the integrated circuit.

Gilbert P. Hyatt was born in 1938. He received his master’s degree in electrical engineering in the early 1960s, and then worked his way up to the position of research engineer with Teledyne. In 1968, he left Teledyne and formed Micro Computer, Inc., to develop his idea of shrinking computer technology onto a single chip, capable of performing all the functions of a computer except interfacing and storing memory. He called his chip the "microcomputer," the same as his company’s name.

Hyatt contracted Intel and Texas Instruments to build his chips, while simultaneously raising venture capital from a group that included Dr. Noyce of Intel. Micro Computer also developed applications for its technology, including the operation of a machine tool control system and an integrated circuit drafting system. On December 28, 1970, Hyatt filed his first patent application covering his microcomputer with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

In early 1971, the investors attempted a coup but realized they could not take the technology with them, as Hyatt had built in protections. However, the revolt crippled Micro Computer, which closed its doors in September 1971, before it had a chance to manufacture its computer chip. Interestingly, Intel introduced its

Intel 4004 computer chip, designed by Stanford University graduate and Intel engineer Marcian E. "Ted" Hoff, at this same time. Also at this time, Gary Boone and his colleagues at Texas Instruments were developing single-chip technology. On July 4, 1971, they built the first computer-on-a-chip, and they filed a patent two weeks later, on July 19, 1971. Texas Instruments introduced the TMS100 later in 1971.

After the demise of his company, Hyatt started consulting for the aeronautics industry to finance his continuing computer research, while also educating himself how to prosecute patent applications. This latter interest arose as his patent applications languished in the U.S. Patent Office. In the meanwhile, Gary Boone of Texas Instruments filed his patent for single-chip microprocessor architecture on September 4, 1973. Hyatt filed multiple follow-up applications, including one dated December 14, 1977.

It wasn’t until July 1990, some two decades after Hyatt’s initial patent application, that he was issued patent number 4,942,516—"Single chip integrated circuit computer architecture." News of this granting was not made public until late August, when it hit the computer industry like a time bomb. Its implications were far-reaching, as it gave Hyatt rights to the technology used in most computer applications, especially those that fueled the personal computer revolution of the 1980s. Industry watchers commented that if Hyatt charged a modest licensing fee, he could collect a handsome sum without bankrupting computer-chip producers. By 1992, Hyatt had received some $70 million from American, Japanese, and European companies. He also made a licensing arrangement with the Phillips Corporation, a multinational concern.

Of course, companies such as Texas Instruments, which was witnessing the rewriting of history that had credited it as originating the microprocessor, appealed Hyatt’s patent claim. A patent, such as Hyatt’s, that takes years to receive confirmation while the industry proceeds to develop and market the very product under question, is commonly called a "submarine" patent. The Patent Office’s Board of Appeals and Interferences heard the case and overturned Hyatt’s claim to the single-chip technology, deciding that his December 28, 1970, application did not describe this technology in accordance with regulations (his December 14, 1977, application appended the necessary description), while Boone’s September 4, 1973, application did.

This judgment was only a partial defeat for Hyatt. As he explained, his patent, "Single chip integrated circuit computer architecture" (abbreviated "516" after the last three digits) included about 50 claims, only half of which concerned "single-chip" technology, while the other half advanced integrated circuit claims. Boone’s "interference" addressed only single-chip claims, and he won on a narrowly defined interpretation of what constituted a legitimate description of the technology according to regulations. As of 1996, the patent office attached a notice to patent 516 canceling its claim to single-chip microcontroller rights. However, all of Hyatt’s other claims, namely, those involving integrated circuit technology, remained standing.

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