Father Of The Video Game Console Showed Off 'Set Top Box' Idea In 1973

from the no-new-ideas dept

It is often said that there are no new ideas any more. This adage is most often applied to fiction and other forms of entertainment. However, this story shows that the adage can apply to technology as well. Ralph Baer is the often ignored but historically recognized father of the home video game console. His invention went on the be licensed as the Magnavox Odessey which later inspired Pong. However, his efforts in the realm of television accessories were not confined to gaming. Via Gamasutra, we have the following video which surfaced thanks to the German Science Spiele Museum. In this video, Baer shows off what he calls Participatory CATV via an "all purpose box" in 1973.


While nothing in this presentation would seem all that new and innovative to modern audiences thanks to the proliferation of the internet, personal computers and smart phones, back in 1973, this was a massive leap for home electronics. For instance, the creative use of encoded audio signals when ordering a product from a commercial is very similar to such common place codes such as UPC and QR codes today. And while home education over the internet today seems old hat, using your cable television subscription to achieve the same end goal is actually quite remarkable.

Another interesting suggestion that was only touched on but not discussed to great length was the idea of ad supported gaming. Today we see this in many forms whether it is free games that include advertising to bring in revenue for the developer, or games sponsored by or acting as an advertisement for a brand. Once video games became a large part of the home, we saw Baer's prediction come true. 

All in all, what this shows is that few ideas are completely new. Many times, someone else will have thought of it before you, or at least thought of something similar. A lesson that some companies should probably consider prior to using patent law as a way to kill competition.


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2012 @ 9:48pm

    Killing Competition

    Companies using patents to kill competition is one of the inevitable outcomes of the patent system. If the patent system could not be used for that purpose, then allegations of infringement could simply be ignored. As the law now is, ignoring an allegation of infringement results in a permanent injunction. Ultimately, that injunction is backed by law enforcement. So companies are forced into patent litigation, by the threat of an injunction.

    The costs to the public of commercial competition being lessened is one of the hidden but inevitable costs of the patent system. Many companies have been killed by patent litigation. Nobody knows what benefits might have been enjoyed by the public, had those companies been allowed to survive. Opportunity costs are economically important, even though they are very difficult to estimate.

    The choice between keeping or abolishing the patent system ultimately comes down to economic analysis. Attempts at reform have consistently failed for over a century, so attempting reform is likely to fail yet again. It is as it is. Keep or abolish?

    The analysis needs to work out the net cost minus benefits of both courses of action. The cost of the patent system appears to substantially exceed its benefits at present, with costs rising and benefits illusory. So "keep" is going to be even more expensive. However, "abolish" might be more expensive than "keep", if somebody can come up with a plausible reason why.

    The patent system is a net loser, so abolition looks good. We need to discuss whether it is or not.

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