Cyril Hilsum: LCD patents

Cyril Hilsum discusses the profitability of patenting LCD technology.

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I first of all realised that we were onto something that was commercially important and I immediately had a freeze on any mention of the materials that we were using. The mixture was called E7 and that was how it was sold and people did not know what was in it, and nobody was allowed to publish anything that mentioned what was in it. We had to patent it but – we knew the patent would be coming out for some time and we could start selling it. The need had been created for flat panels for numerics and watches and they knew that the materials they were using were going to come back and bite them before long. They could see that although everything they did was an improvement they could never get the devices to the stage where they were going to live for long enough to be a satisfactory component, so they were anxious to have something and of course they were scouring the world. We had them in a position where they needed the material. The problem wasn’t actually the argument over the license fee, it was can you make enough for us because we need it in quantity. Success bred success as they were able to show that they now had a stable material and device for watches, and for numerics, particularly for watches, you could see them in all the jewellers’ shops. In fact one of the great things about the group was the spirit within the group where they were saying that, ‘Well I took my wife out shopping and pointed to the digital watches in the shop and she said, ‘Well what’s in that?’ ‘My material’s in that,’ ‘Your material?’ ‘Yeah, that wouldn’t be there without me,’’ and they could never have done that before. It was a totally different spirit that came over the group. And of course it was reflected in the way in which they thought because – I didn’t always get into coffee time but when I did get into coffee time I’d hear somebody saying that, ‘Oh they’ve discovered a new thing in their liquid crystal experiments,’ and immediately the senior people would say, ‘What are you doing about patenting it?’ Now if you’d been in an academic group they would say, ‘Oh were you thinking of publishing it?’ That wasn’t the first question, the first thing was are you patenting it and before long our group was – which most probably about fifteen people was producing half of the patents coming out from the ministry, the whole ministry. And that continued for many years, that the spirit of the group was to invent applications and before long we actually had patents on devices as well as materials and that’s what started bringing in more money. The patents on materials brought in a few millions of pounds, probably five millions, the patents later on devices brought in over 100 million pounds. Only been I think five inventions in the civil service that have brought in more than 100 million pounds and this was one of them, so we were popular. 

  • Interviewee Cyril Hilsum
  • Duration 00:03:24
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 4/23/2012
  • Shelfmark C1379/69

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