PMC was founded in 1981 by John C. Harvey, a prolific inventor with a gift for designing and improving computing technologies and electronic communications systems and services.
PMC’s history can be traced to John’s early and continued fascination with communications and computers. It has served him well in the Navy as a Communications Officer and during a subsequent career in finance and inventing.
John’s attraction to broadcast communications began early, on visits to his grandparents’ farm in New Hampshire in the late 1950’s. When a local UHF television station was constructed near the farm, young John became a regular visitor. It was among the first remote television stations in the U.S., and there John was able to observe first-hand the hardware and manual control strategies that went into generating and transmitting a broadcast signal. Local TV stations of this nature were early forerunners of cable and other public and private TV systems, which later became the basis for the cable industry and, eventually, significant aspects of the Internet.
After graduating from Yale in 1966, John served in the Navy and went to sea with assignments as an Electronic Materials Officer and later as a Communications Officer. This experience provided him with technical awareness that would be reflected in his early inventions. John said that he viewed the naval ship, in his case the USS Aeolus, as a floating private communications system replete with management protocols. Onboard, he also had the opportunity to work with Western Electric consultants who at the time were on the leading edge of communications engineering.
“At the heart of my interest was a fascination with computers,” explains John. “Early on I could see that the ability to automate self-contained or local communications had as much to do with software as hardware. My inventions focused significantly on automating broadcast and cable transmission stations, such as the radio shack on my ship or the television station on our hill top, by placing computers in essential control positions where sailors or station engineers had once stood, interconnecting station equipment to permit the computers to perform control functions previously performed manually.”
Following his service in the Navy, John pursued a career in finance in the treasury department of the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) where he had extensive exposure to computing systems and unlimited use of the company’s IBM mainframe for financial and economic modeling. After serving as Comptroller and CFO of a division of Pfizer, John joined Hambros Bank Ltd., the British merchant bank, where he engaged in venture capital and private equity investing. Here, he received hands-on exposure to patent law, evaluating early stage businesses that relied on patents.
A Focus on Innovation
These experiences reinforced John’s interest in communications systems, and he ultimately decided to pursue a career in which he could devote himself full-time to inventing them. In 1980, he began to explore the possibility of developing patentable technology. John filed his first patent, 4,694,490, a 45-page document, on November 3, 1981 with Jim Cuddihy, a friend and former RCA engineer who is also named on all PMC patents. This first patent did not issue until September 15, 1987.
“Those who could understand the invention thought it was something out of science fiction,” recalls John. “They never thought a business could grow out of it, let alone an industry.”
John’s second patent, 4,704,725, issued on November 3, 1987. The ‘725 patent, 550 pages long, was an elaboration on the ideas that grew out of the first filing, providing additional disclosures. It eventually yielded another ten patents, issuing in 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1999. Seven patents were re-examined during this period as the result of litigation with Thomson, the electronics firm, and Scientific Atlanta, a maker of set top boxes for cable TV. The USPTO reaffirmed most of the claims on almost all of the patents.
Patent Office Delays
The agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), part of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), was an early global patent harmonization effort that the U.S. participated in. Among the effects of TRIPS in the U.S. was that after June 8, 1995, patents would have a 20-year term from filing, providing an effectively shorter period of coverage than the previous 17-year term from issuance. Lawmakers intended to minimize the practice of filing endless continuations on patent applications after products were already being sold and to eliminate so-called “sub-marine” patents.
The PTO delayed processing 327 PMC applications (later condensed to 54) for almost fifteen years. Two of the applications ultimately went to the Board of Patent Appeals. The Board determined that there was substantially allowable subject matter in the applications and that most patents issuing from them are entitled to 1981 priority dates while the others will have priority from 1987. The effect of these rulings is to provide PMC with excellent coverage into the 2030’s.