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gjlaurer's blog

Lemelson - Con Artist or Inventor?

In my humble opinion, Jerome Lemelson was a con artist ranking up there with Charles Ponzi and Bernard Madoff. 1989 was the year that Lemelson started his attempt to get control over the U.P.C. Code and Symbol. Before I discuss my reasons for believing he was not an inventor but rather a gifted con man, I must say that the Lemelson Foundation has used some of his ill gotten riches to do some good. BTW, the Lemelson Foundation is a FOR-PROFIT foundation that holds the rights to his patents.

Jerome Lemelson was born July 1923 and died October 1997. His first patent was issued in 1953 for an incremental improvement to the propeller-beanie. He “Invented” a tube through which the wearer could blow on the propeller to make it turn. Apparently that taught him how the patent office worked and before he died he owned over 558 patents, some issuing after his death.

The patents that opened my eyes to his underhanded methods are those that he claimed dealt with scanning and with barcodes. They were #5,144,421, #5,119,205, #5,128,753, # 4,969,038. Although the earliest one was filed in 1989, he asserted that they all had claims that read on all barcodes, including those invented as early as 1949..

What we learned about people

Or rather how scanners could make huge profits for stores that converted from mechanical checkout to scanners. Well not really….

When developing the specifications for the barcode and symbol one had to determine what would be an acceptable undetected error rate (UDE). In order to do this a simple survey was made to determine the error rate made by checkers keying in the price of each item. Men were sent to the parking lots of several stores chosen at random. These men would offer a shopper leaving the market with a large basket of items, a small payment ($10 as I remember it) to allow them to check their items against the receipt. What they found was that there was usually one or more errors in every one hundred items sold. Not surprising was that most of the errors were in the customer’s favor; I guess those in the store’s favor were caught by the customer and corrected.

It was reasoned that if a scanning system had less than 1 UDE in 1,000 items that the result would result in a modest gain for the market. The first time I was briefed on the specification orally I was told that to be safe, the UDE specification was raised to 1 UDE in 10,000 scans but when I received the written criterion it had again been changed upward to 1 UDE in 20,000 scans.

Before making our proposal to the Symbol Selection Committee, Dave Savir made an in depth mathematical model of my barcode & symbol. One of the conclusions in his published paper was one would expect a UDE of less than 1 in 100,000. WOW! I was overjoyed.

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