Consumers will spend billions this holiday season on CDs, DVDs and machines to record and play the ubiquitous silver discs.
But the inventor of the underlying technology won’t make a cent.
Jim Russell, a retired scientist in Bellevue, can only shrug, shake his head and tell his story.
“What I invented was the optical-digital data-storage technology — the fundamental technology behind the whole thing,” he said.
Russell’s tale is one that resonates in a technology industry where there’s constant tension between sharing and protecting ideas, and where inventors are often eclipsed by investors, marketers and manufacturers.
Sony and Philips get credit for developing the compact disc in the early 1980s. But they licensed technology that Russell developed 20 years earlier in the Tri-Cities.
“He, in my opinion, is really the father of the technology; he had the original ideas for optical-digital recording and I feel is the original inventor of the basic concepts that made it all come into being,” said Marv Erickson, senior program manager at Battelle’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.
An inveterate tinkerer who grew up fixing appliances and radios after school in Bremerton, Russell studied physics at Reed College in Portland. He went on to program early computers and develop a system for controlling nuclear reactors at Hanford.
Russell, 73, worked first for General Electric and then Battelle when it took over the Richland facility in 1965.
Battelle recognized Russell’s creativity and gave him time and a laboratory to develop his ideas, including a far-out system that would use a laser to read digitized music.
In hindsight, Battelle let Russell’s patents go for a song. It licensed them to a venture capitalist who formed a public company in 1980 to market the technology.