Wanted: Solar Pioneers

The electronic computer was invented during WWII, first to calculatethe trajectories of artillery and naval gunfire, then to decode Germancommunications.  After WWII the computer was slow to take hold forgeneral use. It ended up being very expensive to build and operate,used mostly by the military, universities and large corporations.  Itwasn’t until Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started tinkering in their garage that somebody considered making small computers for personal use.  Hewlett-Packard is another example of garage to boardroom development.

So where are the green inovators in their garages?  There are a fewout there, toiling away at things, mostly out of necessity, some out ofboredom, still others trying to stike it rich.  Solar and wind powerare fairly low tech applications.  Nothing really new has come down thepike in quite a while.  There have been some  innovations, things likemore efficient solar coatings, better PV cell technology, betterbatteries, most of which have been developed in labs.

The problem with creating patentable designs is theft of thedesign.  A good example of this is the intermittent windshield wiper.  Robert Kernspatented the circuit in 1964 then presented it to various automobilemanufactures who rejected the idea.  Five years later, they beganmaking cars with intermittent windshield wipers based on Kerns’design.  Kerns sued and it took until the mid 1990’s for all the casesto be decided in his favor.  The 2008 movie Flash of Genius tells the story.

Perhaps this is something that the industry should keep in mind. Steeling other people’s patentable designs then locking them intoexpensive decades long legal disputes can put a damper on creativity. One might think it is not worth it to go through all the trouble ofcreating something if it is going to be stolen by a big company withlots of lawyers.


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