Gordon Gould

Gordon Gould

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Gordon Gould was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

A physicist is a scientist who studies or practices physics. Physicists study a wide range of physical phenomena in many branches of physics spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made to the behavior of the material Universe as a whole...

 who is widely, but not universally, credited with the invention of the laser
A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of photons. The term "laser" originated as an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation...

. Gould is best known for his thirty-year fight with the United States Patent and Trademark Office
United States Patent and Trademark Office
The United States Patent and Trademark Office is an agency in the United States Department of Commerce that issues patents to inventors and businesses for their inventions, and trademark registration for product and intellectual property identification.The USPTO is based in Alexandria, Virginia,...

 to obtain patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

s for the laser and related technologies. He also fought with laser manufacturers in court battles to enforce the patents he subsequently did obtain.

Early life and education

Born in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, Gould was the oldest of three sons. Both his parents were Methodists
Methodism is a movement of Protestant Christianity represented by a number of denominations and organizations, claiming a total of approximately seventy million adherents worldwide. The movement traces its roots to John Wesley's evangelistic revival movement within Anglicanism. His younger brother...

 active in their community church, but he himself was an avowed atheist
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...

. His father was the founding editor of Scholastic Magazine Publications in New York City. He grew up in Scarsdale, a small suburb of New York, and attended Scarsdale High School. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physics at Union College, where he became a member of the Sigma Chi
Sigma Chi
Sigma Chi is the largest and one of the oldest college Greek-letter secret and social fraternities in North America with 244 active chapters and more than . Sigma Chi was founded on June 28, 1855 at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio when members split from Delta Kappa Epsilon...

 Fraternity, and a Master's degree at Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

, specializing in optics
Optics is the branch of physics which involves the behavior and properties of light, including its interactions with matter and the construction of instruments that use or detect it. Optics usually describes the behavior of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light...

 and spectroscopy
Spectroscopy is the study of the interaction between matter and radiated energy. Historically, spectroscopy originated through the study of visible light dispersed according to its wavelength, e.g., by a prism. Later the concept was expanded greatly to comprise any interaction with radiative...

. Between March 1944 and January 1945 he worked on the Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

 but was dismissed due to his activities as a member of the Communist Political Association. In 1949 Gould went to Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 to work on a doctorate in optical and microwave spectroscopy. His doctoral supervisor was Nobel laureate Polykarp Kusch
Polykarp Kusch
Polykarp Kusch was a German-American physicist. In 1955 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics with Willis Eugene Lamb for his accurate determination that the magnetic moment of the electron was greater than its theoretical value, thus leading to reconsideration of—and...

, who guided Gould to develop expertise in the then-new technique of optical pumping
Optical pumping
Optical pumping is a process in which light is used to raise electrons from a lower energy level in an atom or molecule to a higher one. It is commonly used in laser construction, to pump the active laser medium so as to achieve population inversion...

. In 1956, Gould proposed using optical pumping to excite a maser
A maser is a device that produces coherent electromagnetic waves through amplification by stimulated emission. Historically, “maser” derives from the original, upper-case acronym MASER, which stands for "Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation"...

, and discussed this idea with the maser's inventor Charles Townes, who was also a professor at Columbia and later won the 1964 Nobel prize for his work on the maser and the laser. Townes gave Gould advice on how to obtain a patent on his innovation, and agreed to act as a witness.

Invention of the laser

By 1957, many scientists including Townes were looking for a way to achieve maser-like amplification of visible light. In November of that year, Gould realized that one could make an appropriate optical resonator by using two mirrors in the form of a Fabry–Pérot interferometer. Unlike previously considered designs, this approach would produce a narrow, coherent
Coherence (physics)
In physics, coherence is a property of waves that enables stationary interference. More generally, coherence describes all properties of the correlation between physical quantities of a wave....

, intense beam. Since the sides of the cavity did not need to be reflective, the gain medium
Active laser medium
The active laser medium is the source of optical gain within a laser. The gain results from the stimulated emission of electronic or molecular transitions to a lower energy state from a higher energy state...

 could easily be optically pumped to achieve the necessary population inversion
Population inversion
In physics, specifically statistical mechanics, a population inversion occurs when a system exists in state with more members in an excited state than in lower energy states...

. Gould also considered pumping
Laser pumping
Laser pumping is the act of energy transfer from an external source into the gain medium of a laser. The energy is absorbed in the medium, producing excited states in its atoms. When the number of particles in one excited state exceeds the number of particles in the ground state or a less-excited...

 of the medium by atomic-level collisions, and anticipated many of the potential uses of such a device.
Gould recorded his analysis and suggested applications in a laboratory notebook under the heading "Some rough calculations on the feasibility of a LASER: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation"—the first recorded use of this acronym. Gould's notebook was the first written prescription for making a viable laser and, realizing what he had in hand, he took it to a neighborhood store to have his work notarized. Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes independently discovered the importance of the Fabry–Pérot cavity—about three months later—and called the resulting proposed device an "optical maser". Gould's name for the device was first introduced to the public in a conference presentation in 1959, and was adopted despite resistance from Schawlow and his colleagues.

Eager to achieve a patent on his invention, and believing incorrectly that he needed to build a working laser to do this, Gould left Columbia without completing his doctoral degree and joined a private research company, TRG (Technical Research Group). He convinced his new employer to support his research, and they obtained funding for the project from the Advanced Research Projects Agency, ironically with support from Charles Townes. Unfortunately for Gould, the government declared the project classified
Classified information
Classified information is sensitive information to which access is restricted by law or regulation to particular groups of persons. A formal security clearance is required to handle classified documents or access classified data. The clearance process requires a satisfactory background investigation...

, which meant that a security clearance was required to work on it. Because of his former participation in communist activities, Gould was unable to obtain a clearance. He continued to work at TRG, but was unable to contribute directly to the project to realize his ideas. Due to technical difficulties and perhaps Gould's inability to participate, TRG was beaten in the race to build the first working laser by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories
Hughes Research Laboratories
HRL Laboratories , was the research arm of the Hughes Aircraft Company. Its dedicated research center was established in 1960 in Malibu...


Battles for patents

During this time, Gould and TRG began applying for patents on the technologies Gould had developed. The first pair of applications, filed together in April 1959, covered lasers based on Fabry–Pérot optical resonators, as well as optical pumping, pumping by collisions in a gas discharge (as in helium-neon laser
Helium-neon laser
A helium–neon laser or HeNe laser, is a type of gas laser whose gain medium consists of a mixture of helium and neon inside of a small bore capillary tube, usually excited by a DC electrical discharge.- History of HeNe laser development:...

s), optical amplifier
Optical amplifier
An optical amplifier is a device that amplifies an optical signal directly, without the need to first convert it to an electrical signal. An optical amplifier may be thought of as a laser without an optical cavity, or one in which feedback from the cavity is suppressed...

s, Q-switching
Q-switching, sometimes known as giant pulse formation, is a technique by which a laser can be made to produce a pulsed output beam. The technique allows the production of light pulses with extremely high peak power, much higher than would be produced by the same laser if it were operating in a...

, optical heterodyne detection
Optical heterodyne detection
Optical heterodyne detection is an important special case of heterodyne detection. In heterodyne detection, a signal of interest at some frequency is non-linearly mixed with a reference "local oscillator" that is set at a close-by frequency...

, the use of Brewster's angle
Brewster's angle
Brewster's angle is an angle of incidence at which light with a particular polarization is perfectly transmitted through a transparent dielectric surface, with no reflection. When unpolarized light is incident at this angle, the light that is reflected from the surface is therefore perfectly...

 windows for polarization control, and applications including manufacturing, triggering chemical reaction
Chemical reaction
A chemical reaction is a process that leads to the transformation of one set of chemical substances to another. Chemical reactions can be either spontaneous, requiring no input of energy, or non-spontaneous, typically following the input of some type of energy, such as heat, light or electricity...

s, measuring distance, communications
Optical communication
Optical communication is any form of telecommunication that uses light as the transmission medium.An optical communication system consists of a transmitter, which encodes a message into an optical signal, a channel, which carries the signal to its destination, and a receiver, which reproduces the...

, and lidar
LIDAR is an optical remote sensing technology that can measure the distance to, or other properties of a target by illuminating the target with light, often using pulses from a laser...

. Schawlow and Townes had already applied for a patent on the laser, in July 1958. Their patent was granted on March 22, 1960. Gould and TRG launched a legal challenge based on his 1957 notebook as evidence that Gould had invented the laser prior to Schawlow and Townes's patent application. (At the time, the United States used a first to invent system for patents.) While this challenge was being fought in the Patent Office and the courts, further applications were filed on specific laser technologies by Bell Labs
Bell Labs
Bell Laboratories is the research and development subsidiary of the French-owned Alcatel-Lucent and previously of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company , half-owned through its Western Electric manufacturing subsidiary.Bell Laboratories operates its...

, Hughes Research Laboratories
Hughes Research Laboratories
HRL Laboratories , was the research arm of the Hughes Aircraft Company. Its dedicated research center was established in 1960 in Malibu...

, Westinghouse
Westinghouse Electric (1886)
Westinghouse Electric was an American manufacturing company. It was founded in 1886 as Westinghouse Electric Company and later renamed Westinghouse Electric Corporation by George Westinghouse. The company purchased CBS in 1995 and became CBS Corporation in 1997...

, and others. Gould ultimately lost the battle for the U.S. patent on the laser itself, primarily on the grounds that his notebook did not explicitly say that the sidewalls of the laser medium were to be transparent, even though he planned to optically pump the gain medium through them, and considered loss of light through the sidewalls by diffraction
Diffraction refers to various phenomena which occur when a wave encounters an obstacle. Italian scientist Francesco Maria Grimaldi coined the word "diffraction" and was the first to record accurate observations of the phenomenon in 1665...

. Questions were also raised about whether Gould's notebook provided sufficient information to allow a laser to be constructed, given that Gould's team at TRG was unable to do so. Gould was able to obtain patents on the laser in several other countries, however, and he continued fighting for U.S. patents on specific laser technologies for many years afterward.

In 1967, Gould left TRG and joined the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, now the Polytechnic University of New York
Polytechnic University of New York
The Polytechnic Institute of New York University, often referred to as Polytechnic Institute of NYU, NYU Polytechnic, or NYU-Poly, is the engineering and applied sciences affiliate of New York University...

, as a professor. While there, he proposed many new laser applications, and arranged government funding for laser research at the Institute.

Gould's first laser patent was awarded in 1968, covering an obscure application—generating X-rays using a laser. The technology was of little value, but the patent contained all the disclosures of his original 1959 application, which had previously been secret. This allowed the patent office greater leeway to reject patent applications that conflicted with Gould's pending patents. Meanwhile the patent hearings, court cases, and appeals on the most significant patent applications continued, with many other inventors attempting to claim precedence for various laser technologies. The question of just how to assign credit for inventing the laser remains unresolved by historians.

By 1970, TRG had been bought by Control Data Corporation
Control Data Corporation
Control Data Corporation was a supercomputer firm. For most of the 1960s, it built the fastest computers in the world by far, only losing that crown in the 1970s after Seymour Cray left the company to found Cray Research, Inc....

, which had little interest in lasers and was disposing of that part of the business. Gould was able to buy back his patent rights for a thousand dollars, plus a small fraction of any future profits.

In 1973, Gould left the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn to help found Optelecom, a company in Gaithersburg, Md. that makes fiberoptic communications equipment. He later left his successful company in 1985.

Further patent battles, and enforcement of issued patents

Shortly after starting Optelecom, Gould and his lawyers changed the focus of their patent battle. Having lost many court cases on the laser itself, and running out of appeal options, they realized that many of the difficulties could be avoided by focusing instead on the optical amplifier, an essential component of any laser. The new strategy worked, and in 1977 Gould was awarded , covering optically pumped laser amplifiers. The laser industry, by then grown to annual sales of around $400 million, rebelled at paying royalties to license the technology they had been using for years, and fought in court to avoid paying.

The industry outcry caused the patent office to stall on releasing Gould's other pending patents, leading to more appeals and amendments to the pending patents. Despite this, Gould was issued in 1979, covering a variety of laser applications including heating and vaporizing materials, welding, drilling, cutting, measuring distance, communication systems, television, laser photocopier
A photocopier is a machine that makes paper copies of documents and other visual images quickly and cheaply. Most current photocopiers use a technology called xerography, a dry process using heat...

s and other photochemical
Photochemistry, a sub-discipline of chemistry, is the study of chemical reactions that proceed with the absorption of light by atoms or molecules.. Everyday examples include photosynthesis, the degradation of plastics and the formation of vitamin D with sunlight.-Principles:Light is a type of...

 applications, and laser fusion. The industry responded with lawsuits seeking to avoid paying to license this patent as well. Also in 1979, Gould and his financial backers founded the company Patlex, to hold the patent rights and handle licensing and enforcement.

The legal battles continued, as the laser industry sought to not only prevent the Patent Office from issuing Gould's remaining patents, but also to have the already-issued ones revoked. Gould and his company were forced to fight both in court, and in Patent Office review proceedings. According to Gould and his lawyers, the Office seemed determined to prevent Gould from obtaining any more patents, and to rescind the two that had been granted.

Things finally began to change in 1985. After years of legal process, the Federal Court in Washington, DC ordered the Patent Office to issue Gould's patent on collisionally pumped laser amplifiers. The Patent Office appealed, but was ultimately forced to issue , and to abandon its attempts to rescind Gould's previously issued patents. The Brewster's angle window patent was later issued as .

The end of the Patent Office action freed Gould's enforcement lawsuits to proceed. Finally, in 1987, Patlex won its first decisive enforcement victory, against Control Laser corporation, a manufacturer of lasers. Rather than be bankrupted by the damages and the lack of a license to the technology, the board of Control Laser turned ownership of the company over to Patlex in a settlement
Settlement (law)
In law, a settlement is a resolution between disputing parties about a legal case, reached either before or after court action begins. The term "settlement" also has other meanings in the context of law.-Basis:...

 deal. Other laser manufacturers and users quickly agreed to settle their cases and take out licenses from Patlex on Patlex's terms.

The thirty year patent war that it took for Gould to win the rights to his inventions became known as one of the most important patent battles in history. In the end, Gould was issued forty-eight patents, with the optical pumping, collisional pumping, and applications patents being the most important. Between them, these technologies covered most lasers used at the time. For example, the first operating laser, a ruby laser
Ruby laser
A ruby laser is a solid-state laser that uses a synthetic ruby crystal as its gain medium. The first working laser was a ruby laser made by Theodore H. "Ted" Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories on May 16, 1960....

, was optically pumped; the helium-neon laser
Helium-neon laser
A helium–neon laser or HeNe laser, is a type of gas laser whose gain medium consists of a mixture of helium and neon inside of a small bore capillary tube, usually excited by a DC electrical discharge.- History of HeNe laser development:...

 is pumped by gas discharge.

The delay—and the subsequent spread of lasers into many areas of technology—meant that the patents were much more valuable than if Gould had won initially. Even though Gould had signed away eighty percent of the proceeds in order to finance his court costs, he made several million dollars.

"I thought that he legitimately had a right to the notion to making a laser amplifier," said William R. Bennett
William R. Bennett, Jr.
William Ralph Bennett Jr. was an American physicist known for his pioneering work on gas lasers. He spent most of his career on the faculty of Yale University.-Career:...

, who was a member of the team that built the first laser that could fire continuously. "He was able to collect royalties from other people making lasers, including me."

Election to Hall of Fame and death

Even though his role in the actual invention of the laser was disputed over decades, Gould was elected to the National Inventors Hall of Fame
National Inventors Hall of Fame
The National Inventors Hall of Fame is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recognizing, honoring and encouraging invention and creativity through the administration of its programs. The Hall of Fame honors the men and women responsible for the great technological advances that make human,...

 in 1991. In his acceptance speech he said, "I think it's important to be self-critical. You have to weed out all of the aspects of an idea that aren't going to work, or reject the entire idea in favor of some new idea. You have to be encouraged to try things, even if they don't work."

Gould died of natural causes on September 16, 2005. At the time of his death, Gould's role in the actual invention continued to be disputed in scientific circles. Apart from the dispute, Gould had realized his hope to "be around" when the Brewster's angle window patent expired in May 2005.

See also

  • Robert Kearns
    Robert Kearns
    Robert William Kearns was the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper systems used on most automobiles from 1969 to the present. His first patent for the invention was filed on December 1, 1964....

    , another inventor who fought a long battle to enforce his patents.
  • Edwin H. Armstrong, another inventor who fought a long and acrimonious battle to enforce his patents.

External links