James L. Fergason Remembered
We were saddened to hear that Dr. James L. Fergason passed away on December 9, 2008. Jim is widely recognized as one of the leading independent inventors of the past 50 years and as the father of the modern liquid-crystal industry. His technical insights, leadership, creativity, optimism, and hard work led him on a life-long path of major technology contributions. His breakthrough products still employ hundreds of thousands of people and contribute billions of dollars to the world economy. Along the way he found time to mentor independent inventors, contribute to patent reform, and love his wife of over 52 years, as well as their four children and 10 grandchildren.
James L. Fergason
An active inventor, Fergason was awarded more than 150 U.S. patents and 500 foreign patents and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1998. Although he didn't discover liquid crystals, he did become one of the first to understand what they could do, and he invented some of their practical uses, including digital watches, calculators, forehead thermometers, and flat-panel TVs.
Shortly after earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri in 1956, Fergason accepted a position as a researcher at Westinghouse Research Laboratories in Pennsylvania, where he formed and led the first industrial research group to study liquid crystals. At Westinghouse, he spent most of his time observing liquid crystals and understanding how they worked. His pioneering efforts earned him the first patent on the practical use of cholesteric liquid crystals, which he filed in 1958 and received in December 1963.
In the late 1960s, the Liquid Crystal Institute at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, recruited Fergason for his fundamental understanding of cholesteric liquid crystals. While he was associate director of the Institute, his work on the twisted-nematic field effect of liquid crystals evolved and became a critical step in his career of continuous inventions and innovations in the flat-panel-display industry.
In 1970, Fergason started his own company, the International Liquid Crystal Com-pany (Ilixco), to further study and commercial-ize LCDs. During the 1980s and 1990s, he led self-funded research and technology incubation programs in which he and his teams focused on the challenges of liquid crystals and display technology. Subsequently, he was issued several enabling patents for the twisted-nematic LCD, the principal technology used in the vast majority of flat panels today. Fergason ultimately sold these patents to Hoffman LaRoche in exchange for a share of the royalty stream from a portfolio of patents that was successfully licensed to nearly all LCD makers.
In 1983, he was issued a patent for the fast-switching-speed "surface mode" LCD, which was licensed to multiple manufacturers for use in high-speed shutters. He won a notable litigation against Tektronics related to this technology. Also, in the early 1980s, Fergason invented the PDLC-mode LCD that enabled a new family of plastic-substrate flat panels as well as switchable windows. He licensed the PDLC portfolio to Raychem Corp. and supported its commercialization program for several years.
In 2001, he founded Fergason Patent Properties LLC to broadly license all of his intellectual property on a non-exclusive basis and support licensees in integrating inventions into new and improved products. He set up his own development laboratories and evolved patent portfolios in several new areas, including image-synchronized brightness control, definition doubling, and 3-D visualization displays.
His inventions have had ongoing economic impacts. His twisted-nematic LCD is a critical element of the technology that has enabled the explosive growth of the mobile information, communications, and entertainment services, as well as the related consumer-electronics equipment markets that are a cornerstone of the world economy.
Jim's achievements were widely recognized and he received many honors, including the SID Frances Rice Darne Memorial Award, the Richardson Medal from the American Optical Society, induction into the Inventors Hall of Fame, and the Lemelson-MIT Prize – the highest award offered anywhere in the world for invention. Other recognitions came from the University of Missouri, his alma mater, with an Honorary Doctorate, and also from Kent State University and the Smithsonian Institute.
Through his alliances with the U.S. Patent Office, Inventors Hall of Fame, SPIE (Society of Photographic Instrumentation Engineers), OSA (Optical Society of America), and other professional organizations, he mentored independent inventors. Serving on the United States Patent and Trademark Office's advisory board, he supported efforts to improve the quality of patents.
Throughout Jim's life, Dora, his wife, stood beside him and supported his career and their family. He was a loving father and doting grandfather. Jim is survived by Dora and their four children, Teresa, Jeffrey, John, and Susan as well as by 10 grandchildren.
Sources for this article include Insight Media, Lemelson–MIT Program, National Inventors Hall of Fame, and Fergason Patent Properties LLC.
The following SID members were elevated to SID Senior Member status on November 16, 2008:
The following SID members were elevated to SID Senior Member status on January 18, 2008:
T. N. Ruckmongathan
The Latin America SID Chapter hosted LatinDisplay 2008 in Campinas, Brazil, last November 17–20, 2008. The key goals of this conference were to cover the most recent advances and trends in displays and to encourage open discussions about needs, opportunities, and the fostering of cooperative R&D programs in the Ibero-American region.
Digital student desks equipped with laptop and tablet were shown at LatinDisplay 2008 and also featured, as part of a follow-up event (shown here), the Display Escola (display school), which was organized by the Associação Brasileira de Informática (ABINFO).
LatinDisplay featured 23 invited speakers from Brazil, USA, The Netherlands, India, Italy, Finland, Germany, Japan, and Singapore. Among those, the following focused particularly on markets and market opportun-ities for the display industry in Brazil: "Present and emerging mobile multimedia display technology" by Jyrki Kimmel (Nokia); "Solar cell market and technology" by Gopalan Rajeswaran (Moserbaer); "Brazil: the alternative for the display industry" by Margarida Baptista (BNDES); "LCD & photovoltaic market outlook" by Anis Fadul (Corning); and "Display market and trends" by John Jacobs (DisplaySearch). A follow-up discussion led by Ken Werner of Insight Media focused on how Brazil could attract manufacturing in the areas of displays and solar cells.
Den Engelsen notes that from an industrial point of view, the role of Latin America is insignificant in the display arena: "The center of gravity of display production is in the Far East," he says, "whereas the new innovations on 3-D displays and flexible displays are largely coming from Europe and the U.S. However, in applications, Latin America is playing a role."
One such application that received a great deal of attention at the conference is the digital student desk equipped with PC and tablet, as discussed by Dr. Victor Mammana (CTI) in his presentation, "Using tablets for education in digital desks."
"This is a Brazilian innovation," says den Engelsen, "and it is getting momentum now in Brazil and also abroad."