Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Scientist's invention was let go for a song
The Seattle Times: "Today, Russell does consulting from a lab in the basement of his Bellevue home to keep in the game and supplement a modest pension from Battelle.

A wooden box on a shelf contains a set of faintly scored glass plates, each about the size of a 3- by 5-inch notecard. They are precursors of the DVD; each contains a digital recording of a television show taken off the air in 1974 to prove that his idea for optical digital recording worked.

The plates, a collection of paperwork and a small trophy from Battelle are basically all he has to show for his work on a technology that changed how the world buys and stores music, movies and software.

'I didn't really expect I was going to make a lot of money, because I recognized early on it was going to take a big company to put this all together and get it out on the market, because it was a revolutionary thing,' Russell said, 'and you don't just do revolutionary things of that order without enormous support and that I was going to lose my position no matter what.

'That's OK, but a little royalty I kind of expected. I didn't expect to get nothing.'

Battelle did a little better. The research institution, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, made more than $1 million from the patents, but not a lot more."

Jim Russell's optical-digital recording work:

1953: Russell joins General Electric as a physicist at Hanford, where he developed several instrumentation systems, the first computerized-control system for a nuclear reactor and the first electron-beam welder.

1965: Joins Battelle at Richland and begins developing the first of three optical data-storage technologies.

1966: The first of a series of 25 patents is filed.

1973: Designs and builds first prototype.

1974: Technology demonstrated to potential licensees, including Sony and Philips.

1979: Sony and Philips begin joint development of digital audio disc.

1980: Digital Recording established to develop technology.

1982: Sony begins CD production.

1985: Digital Recording goes out of business; assets sold to Optical Recording in Toronto, which hires Russell.

1987: Russell's contract with Optical Recording ends; he becomes independent consultant and inventor.

1988: Optical Recording settles patent case with Sony and Philips.

2004: More than 35 million CD players and 25 million DVD players sold.

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