It's been 43 years since Gilbert Hyatt applied for a patent on a machinery-control system, and 35 years since he sought a patent related to liquid crystal displays. It takes an average of about two years to get patent approval—but Hyatt hasn't received it on either invention, Bloomberg reports, meaning his could be the oldest pending applications in existence. The 76-year-old inventor filed a lawsuit in January to push for official action. The problem, according to an outside patent lawyer: The patent office fears embarrassment. Officials worry they "might issue a broad patent that would have a sweeping impact on the technology sector. Rather than be embarrassed, they’re just bottling it up."
It's unclear how much such patents could cost technology companies. A previous patent Hyatt received—which took a mere 20 years to be granted—shocked the tech industry by initially offering him a claim on most microprocessors. The patent was later partially revoked, but Hyatt still made a likely $150 million after a deal with Dutch firm Royal Philips NV to license that and other patents, Bloomberg notes. Now he says he's getting the "runaround" from the patent office. At the Huffington Post, an economist puts him among "the fathers of the microcomputer" and calls him a prime example of the challenges faced by independent inventors. But a tech historian notes that "innovations are more than ideas ... If Gilbert Hyatt had never existed, I believe the microprocessor would have developed in the same way that it did." (Read more Gilbert Hyatt stories.)