Peter Sprague is the Co-founder and Chairman of Satellite Displays, a company focused on improving communication and providing tools for the deaf and hearing impaired. Before starting Satellite Displays, Peter was the Founder and Chairman of Wave Systems Corp. for 24 years and the Chairman of National Semiconductor for 30 years.
As the Chairman of Aston Martin, Peter helped pull the company out from bankruptcy and hired back 400 employees. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale University.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Peter Sprague talks about the importance of getting a good patent attorney
- Is a patent awarded to the first person to invent a product or the first to file for a patent?
- Rich Goldstein talks about provisional patent applications, non-provisional patent applications, regular patent applications, and continuation-in-part patent applications
- Peter talks about running for office against Ed Koch in New York
- How Peter helped rescue Aston Martin from bankruptcy and his experience being chairman for National Semiconductor
- What is Peter’s innovative device for helping the hearing impaired with their communication?
- Peter shares the key to invention
- The inventions made by Frank Julian Sprague, inventor of the trolley car—and Peter’s grandfather
- How to get in touch with Peter
In this episode…
The key to innovation is, in part, discovering a problem. You also have to be curious, believe that you can solve the issue, and find the right people or companies to help you create that product. This includes finding the right patent attorney.
This is what Peter Sprague learned when he got started with innovation. He came from an entrepreneurial background, and just like his grandfather, believed in his products and the solutions they could provide. One of his own innovations is Badger, a tech-enabled, smart device offering instant speech-to-text and real-time language translation for the hearing impaired.
In this episode of the Innovations and Breakthroughs Podcast, Rich Goldstein is joined by Peter Sprague, the Co-founder and Chairman of Satellite Displays, to talk about the key to innovation. Peter explains why innovators need to find good patent attorneys to work with, talks about his innovative device for the hearing impaired, and explains how he helped rescue Aston Martin from bankruptcy. Stay tuned.
Resources Mentioned in this episode
- Goldstein Patent Law
- Rich Goldstein’s book: The ABA Consumer Guide to Obtaining a Patent
- Satellite Displays on LinkedIn
- Peter Sprague’s website
- Peter Sprague on LinkedIn
- Peter Sprague’s email: [email protected]
- Aston Martin
- The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson
- E Ink
- Frank Julian Sprague
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Goldstein Patent Law, a firm that helps protect inventors’ ideas and products. They have advised and obtained patents for thousands of companies over the past 25 years. So if you’re a company that has a software, product, or design you want protected, you can go to https://goldsteinpatentlaw.com/. They have amazing free resources for learning more about the patent process.
You can email their team at welcome[email protected] to explore if it’s a match to work together. Rich Goldstein has also written a book for the American Bar Association that explains in plain English how patents work, which is called ‘The ABA Consumer Guide to Obtaining a Patent.’
Welcome to innovations and breakthroughs with your host RichGoldstein, talking about the evolutionary, the revolutionary, the inspiration and the perspiration and those aha moments that change everything. And now here’s your host, Rich Goldstein,
Rich Goldstein here, hosts of the innovations and breakthroughs podcast, where we feature top leaders and the path they took to create change past guests include Rex’s Ari James Thompson. And Steve Simon said, this episode is brought to you by my company, Goldstein patent law, but we help you to protect your ideas and products. We’ve advised and obtained patents for thousands of companies over the past 27 years. So if you’re a company that has software product or a design, you want to protected go to Goldstein patent law.com, where there are amazing free resources for learning about the patent process. And you can email my [email protected] to explore if it’s a match to work together. You can also check out the book I wrote for the American bar association that explains in plain English, how patents work it’s called the ABA consumer guide to obtaining a patent. I have with me here today, Peter Sprake, Peter has done so many interesting things among them when Aston Martin was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1975, and they shut their factories. He stepped in and put everyone back to work. Uh, he was also chairman of national semiconductor for 30 years. Uh, his current project and passion is in providing tools for the deaf and hearing impaired. I’m very pleased to welcome here today. Peter Sprague. Welcome Peter.
Thank you very much Rich.
So go ahead. Go ahead.
No, it’s just fascinating about patents because I have about a dozen patents and on one of them in 20 days, the reasons why you want a good patent attorney. So this is an advertisement you haven’t paid me to deliver, but I, I invented a retroactive recording device for audio and believe it or not, I got this patent, but when we wrote it, my patent attorney was in his early seventies. And, uh, when I wrote it, I wrote it for audio. If I’d thrown in video, if you took Moore’s law, anything you could do in audio would eventually be done in video. I was six weeks ahead of, uh, oh God, I’m forgetting the punchline Pivo. Oh wow. And TiVo has netted about a billion dollars on their patent. And what was missing is when you think about patents, don’t invent, which you’re thinking about now, invent it and everything else you think might happen in the next 17 years, which becomes challenging.
If I’d remembered that I wouldn’t have a billion dollars, but if did I, you know, have a longer yacht and a better family and an improved dog, but the fact of the matter is I could have harassed him and do at least a hundred million because clearly my patent proceeded their patent. And it’s a very simple idea. Just record everything that’s happening. You can go back in and it can’t solve cancels. If you don’t go back, you can do it with audio. And now everybody on your program does it with video. So get a good patent attorney. I actually have a new patent attorney. So I’m not your client. I’m just saying that the good patent attorneys make a difference.
Oh, absolutely. Well, I mean, and the whole thing, the whole lesson there is to was having imagination is having the imagination to think, not just of the problem itself, but the problem that it may solve in the future and kind of like, what are the, um, like, like what is the out of the box notion of this invention? So you’re looking at it through a certain set of constraints, but what’s even beyond that. And then is it possible to cover that as well? So, absolutely. I agree. Good patent attorneys make a difference. And I think what makes a difference is having some imagination outside of the box either, um, on the side of the, um, the inventor or even on the side of the, the patent attorney, but either way, it’s like you have to think a little bit bigger than you’re thinking right now to, uh, to make the most out of it.
Well, I could ask you another question, oddly enough. Uh, the world used to be on when you invented not when you filed. Yes, there was a famous case of the laser, which was solved 17 years after the patent was originally filed by a Nobel prize winner. And I believe his student ended up winning that he’d written a paper earlier and the patent started again in the first 17 years of the laser. Nobody found anything useful to do with it. So the second 17 years was really important. So as the world improved with the first to file, or is the world
Exactly and better now, it’s better now. I mean, up until just a few years ago, the United States was the only country in the world that, um, that, that awarded the patent theoretically to the first to invent, there were some constraints on it. You, you had to not only have conceived of the invention earlier than the person who, who filed first at the patent office, but you also have to have been diligent towards moving it forward towards an actual invention. It’s called reducing it to practice. And that’s the way it was for a very long time. And we, the United States stood alone as the only country that was first to invent. Uh, but for, I think it’s, uh, out seven years now, we have, um, followed, we now follow the rest of the, of the world with a first to file. So now it’s the first person to file the patent application.
That’s entitled to the patent. Um, so you know, one of the consequences of that is there’s this been rumor going around for more than a hundred years of, of what’s called a poor man’s patent where people would say, well, if you have an idea, this is what you do. You put it in an envelope and you mail it to yourself. And then the postmark will be proof of when you invented it. So if someone else files their patent, you’ll be able to go into court with that envelope and show them, you know, in a magical moment, you’ll open the envelope and they’ll be, and they’ll say, oh yeah, he invented it first. But you know what? Um, it used to be hard to explain to people why that didn’t work. Uh, I mean, they used to have to tell people, well, you’re trying to get around the system. And why would, um, why would they ever reward you for getting around your attempt to hack the system? Now, it’s really simple. Now the answer just is it’s the first two in first to file system. So you could have a hundred priests show, um, demonstrating that you, uh, or attesting to the fact that you invented at first. It just doesn’t matter because that’s not the law, the law doesn’t follow the first to invent anymore. It follows the first to file.
Then you have a year after you filed, actually catch up and filed some additional ideas. So you can give it a kind of limited idea. And then you can file an idea that probably wouldn’t get a patent. And then you’ve got a year to basically improve your bright idea because bright ideas are all around you. So somebody else was going to beat you to the patent office. So why shouldn’t I get there first with my dismal bright idea and cast light on it later.
Yes. And, uh, and what are you referring to there as a provisional patent application, which has been around since, uh, 1996, I believe, uh, it basically gives you the ability to file an application to establish priority for your idea. And then it gives you another year to file the, what they called non-provisional patent application or the utility patent application. Uh, so yeah, you could take that approach. Um, and you know, you could also do that too with a regular patent application. They don’t give you a year technically, but it’s kind of like a, a lot of times what people do is they file their initial patent application with the general concept. Uh, and while that application is working its way through the patent office, then if they make improvements, they file an additional application. That points the first one, we call it a continuation in part where we are, um, we’re saying, Hey, I’ve just filed a new patent application. But most of it, I filed in a previous patent application a year and a half earlier. Um, and, um, part of it is new, but at least for the part of it, that’s like what I filed a year and a half ago, give me credit for the fact that I had the main concept a year and a half ago. So there’s a couple of ways to go about that, but yeah, absolutely. You should get, get something filed.
I didn’t sign on interview. You, you’re going to interview me
With a couple of questions for me,
But the fact that that was your answer.
Yeah. You, you, you know, like you do a pretty good job of, uh, the direction here, so, uh, I guess let’s roll it back then. So, um, um, so it seems that you’re a new Yorker.
Um, yeah, I guess
I noticed that
About 50 years, I even ran for Congress against ed Kotch and New York.
And, uh, and
I lost, thank God.
A full fledged Democrat candidate and a Republican candidate coach, but I was a Republican. You wouldn’t recognize in the current Republican party. In fact, I wasn’t even a rhino, but I did run a fully honest political ad at the end of my campaign, full page in the post. It won’t make any difference for the vote for me or my opponent because neither of us will get anything done.
No, but small print was, get out of Vietnam and it made no difference. You’re your freshmen, the small print with all the things that they wanted us to promise to do. All I wanted to do is improve subways in a Congress full of chairman of committees who came from towns under 50,000 people. They didn’t have any interest in subways, but Democrats and Republicans live in New York. We all ride subways. So anyway, but yeah.
All right. So it’s some, some politics involved in so many other things. And then of course, there’s the Aston Martin story, right? So you, you jumped in there, uh, in 1975 and kind of rescued the company, which is doing well today. It’s one of the most sought after brands in, in, in automobiles high-end automobiles. And that might not have been the case if you didn’t jump in there to, to keep it afloat and to, um, to keep it going for a number of years. So how did that come about? How did you end up in that position?
Well, one, I’m an entrepreneur. So I specialize in getting into things that are a mess and nobody wants to deal with. And Walter Cronkite on Christmas Eve came on. I know a couple of days after Christmas, he even announced that on Christmas Eve, the Ashton Martin factory had been locked and nobody could get into it. And it was bankrupt. And he came out with a black tie, which he didn’t normally do for people. And this time he did it for a company and why is Aston Martin dead? And I came down just before new, my family was there, you know, wife, four kids, so usual routine. And I started complaining. They said, well, why don’t you do something about it?
So I call up a friend of mine in London and I got another friend. And it said, if you can find the name of the managing director, I’ll come over and talk to him. I had no intention to really doing anything about it, but they never let me in the factory before. Right. And then the press got involved in the then managing director of the bankrupt company called up the press and said an American was coming over to the save, the Aston Martin Gar company. And they made the front page of every newspaper in England with the lead in not Peter spray and American millionaire without a name toward the Aston Martin carpet. And you want to get the press excited, be a millionaire without a name. Somebody is going to see the photograph of you on the front page of the newspaper. Might’ve been an old girlfriend or something, but whatever it is, and I just stuck it out because frankly, and then I suddenly realized I loved the workforce and I loved the tools that were laid down.
And I began to really dislike the guy who owned it, who wouldn’t put any heat in the heater. And I just stuck with it and I got 190. So at 67 people said no. And a great guy named Alan Curtis said yes. And with practically nothing, we did it, but I couldn’t have done it. If I had been a hyphenated Englishman, like what they call Oxbridge, because they so resent the accent that nobody would have believed me. Most of my workforce came from York. Sharon I’m as down-market, as they are, I’m American, right. They have very little prejudice against Americans because they’ve seen very few of them and therefore they like us better. And so the net result is they trusted me and I trusted them, but that gap is not easily done. There is in fact, a class structure in England that gets in the way is even a class structure in the United States gets in the way.
So, so in a certain respect, you able to do what another Englishman couldn’t quite do you step in there and be relatable to the workforce in that, in that manner?
Yeah, I suppose that’s part of it. And part of it, I was lucky. And then I w my skill set is that I usually end up running things and I immediately find people smarter than I am. And then I give them the job. And then I stay out of the way and chair. But the fact of the matter is, you know, this idea that you’ve got this paramount leader, you know, blah, blah, blah. It was true at national semiconductor. The guy that built the company was Charlie spork. But I stayed for about 35 years because one, I didn’t irritate Charlie very often. And I loved what I was doing. And I lived on the east coast and they were on the west coast. And if I’d been there all the time, I probably would have irritated the death and stopped being chairman
And, and so interesting though, too, is that you, you were chairman, um, um, for, for national semiconductor. I mean, you were there from the, from the mid sixties to the mid nineties, which is like, it’s kind of like, that’s when the, the electronics industry exploded during that time. It’s like from the mid sixties, like, I mean, what was it even, and compared to what it became in the eighties and the nineties,
I would love to talk about this provided I get a little time for Badger, because the most interesting thing about it, and Isaacson’s written about this in a book called the innovators, uh, believe it or not, Tom Wolfe wrote an amazing article as part of one of his books that, you know, the Kool-Aid acid, you know, guy, but boy, can he write? And it turns out, yeah. Uh, I can actually claim to have broken up Fairchild and Intel because, uh, I got involved in a company called national, having a doctor in about 1961 or two. Uh, I was 23. My father died. He’d been in the electronics business. I had an enough money to put $75,000 in the company, which was a lot of money in those days. So they made me a director. I was maybe 24, but then life got very interesting because we were under in receivership and had been started by four roommates, Don Lucas, who went on to be head of Oracle.
I mean, chairman, uh, bill winter, winter, bill van Valen, bill, uh, come on Vanderbilt. I don’t need you to say anything further. And Don Wieden, they were roommates, but I hung around Allen and company. And I figured out how the pink sheets worked. And I went to the trader and I said, how do I get in the pink sheets? And he said, it’s gotta be legal. So I called up white and case, and you could get into pink sheets all the way to NASDAQ with 500 shareholders, 200 round lot holders. Who’d held the stock for at least two years and weren’t officers or directors. And we met this becomes very important because we were elicited security on the way. And so the first group we hired out of, out of, uh, out of, uh, Intel was Bob Wydeler and Dave Talbert and widely is a universally admired genius of the design of linear integrated circuits.
His partner, uh, Dave Talbott was the process guy. And then the girlfriend who unfortunately is nameless, but I’ve got to get it. She cut the masks through which you shone the light to make, to develop it. She cut those on her knees on a light table, through a red ruble list. And they joined us and we bought a company in California that was under chapter 11 when we were under chapter seven, got 35 acres of Shanda Clara thrown into the deal and hire these guys. And what they wanted was $800,000 tax free. And they’re a 500,000 tax stream in their bank account in five years. And I had security.
So we made a deal and a year and a half later we were number one. But the important thing about that was before that the group that invented the integrated circuit and the transistor was Shockley labs to instruments, to Sherman Fairchild Fairchild, and they kept leaving. And Charlie spork who left the first major group before we, he was production. Intel was Bob noise and, you know, technology. And the third one was AMD. He was going to take him to another company. Plessy. There were no VICIS other than people like jock, Whitney, and then Intel picked up, but they got Arthur rock and eventually Arthur rock and Bob Noyce funded apple. But all of a sudden you had funding money to play with was kind of the equivalent of early sixties, Bitcoin, but it was real. And when we hired Charlie spork, uh, our stock went from three to 24 in one day, but we made the deal with him.
We met him on Wednesday and the racket club in New York, which is suitable for everybody’s amusements, right? And on Friday, nine days later, he and PLM on and Don Valentine and Floyd, Kwame and legends seven guys showed up and we gave him 10% of the company because we could, because we had a company that we could give 10% away. We didn’t have any money. We had funny money, but the funny money led to a couple of billion dollar companies. So it’s very interesting that, that there was no venture capital really in the early sixties. And so to a certain extent, this had a major impact on how this all flowed, because after that, these companies all went public and they skipped the whole merge with general electric merge with IBM, be unhappy and try and figure out a way out, right. They were all, all of a sudden running their own company. And the key to running a chairman, being chairman of a company with a bunch of people who like to run their own company, run their own.
That’s great. Um, awesome. You know, um, uh, I know you have a lot of stories. Tell about that. Like maybe baby, um, I’ll have you back to tell them another time, but I want to talk about your current project for right now. So
For a second, I have to plug it in.
And while, while you’re doing that, it’s like, I, I mean, I know that you’re, you’re passionate about this. This is a, this is a passion project. And so this is about, uh, allowing people with, um, hearing, um, people that are hearing, hearing impaired to communicate with, um, with other people and making it, um, it kinda solving a problem of communication and, uh, that allows people to, um, to talk that couldn’t otherwise do so easily.
Okay. I’m here. Okay. God, I know. Okay. Well, here’s a Badger, but I’ve got it speaking Spanish.
Awesome. Oh, it’s so cold on video, right. For those that are, that are
Okay. There’s Badger. You just reset this way. I’ll let it talk English in a moment. Let me see if I can get it clear. Okay.
Okay. Yeah. So the
Idea was, but let me just, I’m going to do something fun. I’m going to take it out of, out of a
And Peter, if you’ve given me a moment, I just want to give it some context for those that can’t see what’s what’s going on here. So essentially what we have is a, is a device. It’s a, it’s a, it’s a relatively miniature device, probably about the size of the Palm of your hand, which has a screen kind of looks like a Kindle screen. It uses E ink. And essentially what it’s doing is it’s providing captions, um, for the things that, um, that are being said, uh, and, uh, essentially, and wall. So it’s like, imagine if you’re on video and with someone and you held this device up this little screen, which provides tax and it provides captions. So you’re basically captioning yourself and then add onto it. Um, and there it is, it’s saying the words that I’m saying, uh, and then add onto it, the fact that you could also have it simultaneously translate between languages. Uh, it’s really, really fascinating innovation. So anyway, that’s the, that’s the background for those that can’t, um, that are listening to this on a typical podcast, and can’t see what’s happening on the, on the video, which will be in the YouTube channel. Um, and, uh, so let me kick it back over to you, Peter, to talk about it.
Well, I was holding it up on my screen and it was putting captions on you. Yes. And unfortunately I have earphones in because I’m partly deaf, so I’m not hearing in real sound, but otherwise I can put captions on you in Russian. All I have to do is say Badger input, English, output, Russian, hold it here, take my earphone and plug out, pick up the computer audio, and we’ll let you say, we’ll come on in Russia. Uh, that trick is only going to be about three weeks away. So now I have to actually hit here English to Russian, but it’s very simple, but it becomes interesting in terms of patents because when you patent it, you don’t talk about the fact that the brains you’re in a smartphone, the brains are in a processor, which happens at the moment to be located in a smartphone. Eventually I want to move the processor into Badger. This weighs 1.3 ounces, and it runs on lithium-ion batteries, but it’s trick. And the real trick that made it work is that there’s a company called E Inc in Taiwan, founded out of MIT. And the students that I left for their professor and sold it to a group of Taiwanese ambassadors for 300 or 400 billion million dollars in 19, in 2030. That’s because they have the order for Kindle.
And it’s now a couple of billion dollar company in Taiwan, and we’re their hot product, uh, except that they didn’t know that this product existed because among other things, their screen takes six seconds. This screen takes one and a half seconds to do that. You had to get, you had to know they existed. But the nice thing about that is if this is worn by your doctor and your doctor’s talking to you, and then he leaves the hospital, take a walk, or God knows, probably not smoke a cigarette. And his battery ran out. He couldn’t get back in, but in our case, when the battery runs out, it goes back to a permanent display. Hang on. I gotta hang on.
Yeah. It goes back to this, which is the doctor’s badge at the veterans administration, where over a hundred thousand people have hearing problems. It’s bigger than post-traumatic stress, costs more money. Then put on a mask and try and talk through the mask and a plastic shield and your death. So the idea came from a program on CNN, the key to invention. If I can make the final comment, I don’t know how close we are. There’s an absolute key to invention. Being lucky enough to find a problem. You can’t get up in the morning, pound yourself in the back, tell your wife, girlfriend, or what have you. I’m an inventor. And go sit down in a cubicle. You got to have some good luck of somebody who says that door keeps slamming and you say, oh my God, why can’t I put a rubber wedge under it?
And on we go. So I have a very funny letter from my grandfather. I’ll send you, you can put it in the program, but my grandfather was an orphan who ended up inventing the trolley car and the elevator. And it’s Frank J Sprague. And you’re looking him up and make a PDF. And there a bunch of books. And I have an actual original letter that reads like email. And it says, Edison, just, just email. This is handwritten Edison. As the boss chemist, I think he might be able to help me. I have an idea that you can draw on a piece of paper, uh, with some kind of ink that’s conducted. And, uh, I thought you might have an idea of the formula and Addison wrote into the bottom Sprague. I think you should try a reduction of copper and there were two other formulas and it read like a modern email.
No, your distinguished self and no, my God, you know, can I kiss your feet? You guys thinking about something. And my grandfather had been fired by Edison who wrote him a letter that said that he would had no future as an electrical engineer. This was before the trolley car in the elevator. So he won the Edison metal and the year after Westinghouse and Edison was in the audience with not without a, not with a hearing aid with an ear trumpet, no, a big reverse megaphone. And my grandfather had the greatest pleasure. I think any of us will ever have, which is reading the letter. You have no future as an electrical engineer, into the hearing aid of whoever wrote you. That letter.
When you’re on a stage, but I mean, the key thing is, is one, believe you can do it and to look around for problems where shopping and I’m going busily going deaf. So I may need this invention. So I had a problem. And half of your viewers, if they actually sat down and thought about it, what problem would they like to solve? At least it’s the beginning. And then after they think they got an idea, they should try it out. And a few friends. And after that, they probably should call it patent attorney.
Yeah. That’s, that’s awesome. I love that one.
I’ll send you the letter tomorrow.
Yeah. Thank you. I appreciate that. And uh, so, so people want to get with you or learn more about you. How do they go about doing so,
Okay. Are you going to Peter Spragg, [email protected]? It’s w well, that’s my address. You go to LinkedIn, Peter Sprague, or you go to the name of the company is satellite display. Uh, we couldn’t get the URL with an S show. It’s satellite spelled normally display no ash.com. And when you get there, you’ll discover now I’m going to get my host in trouble, but we went public on start engine last Thursday. So we’re doing this in California. Uh, so you will discover that you could actually invest in this, but the reality is we’re just going after the market, who everybody who’s down, Harbor here, hard of hearing, or has somebody they need to, or we would like to talk to in a foreign language and that’s an adequate market. So we’ll see how we, how we do, but we built it and it works. And our engineers are in Seattle, Montreal, and, uh, and, uh, come on Ukraine. And, uh, we have today the same way my engineers grew up in a deaf family. I love this project because there’s nothing abstract about it. It just helps people’s lives. We hope so. Now when we go, which is the company motto, we sign everything, not cheers, but on we go,
That’s amazing. And I just want to add to that too. There’s also love, you also have sprague.com, which has a lot of interesting, um, it’s kind of like a, a link tree of, of connections to different articles and different, um, interesting info about Peter and, um, and Peter, I just really appreciate you taking the time to do this interview and to be on this program.
Well, I hope your viewers are as lucky as I am, because I’d been a three hour conference call before this. And so I decided to get a glass of white on the side. So if I signed an unusually garrulous, uh, I hope some of the people who are watching this will watch it and follow my example metrics.
Absolutely. Um, cheers to everyone. And thanks again, Peter.
Thanks for listening to innovations and breakthroughs with your host, Rich Goldstein. Be sure to click, subscribe, check us out on the [email protected] and we’ll see you next time.