Inventor fights Sony for patent

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The Independent Online

It will be a David and Goliath style contest. Today at the Court of Appeal in London, one of the world's most powerful corporations will do battle with a middle-aged inventor over patent rights for the Sony Walkman.

Andreas Pavel, 51, will try to prove he invented the portable stereo in 1977, two years before Sony launched it on the market.

The Walkman, the revolutionary electronic hit of the Eighties, has earned the Japanese company an estimated pounds 3bn in worldwide sales over 17 years.

Pavel, who was once a television consultant, filed his patent for a "stereophonic reproduction system for personal wear" after conceiving the idea of a miniature cassette player as a way of listening to his favourite music, while on holiday in Europe.

His machine comprised a pair of headphones strapped to a bulky utility belt, which was attached to a small cassette player, amplifier, batteries and a storage pouch.

In 1990 Pavel lodged his case to establish an infringement of patent in the new Patent County Court, set up by Margaret Thatcher to make justice quicker and cheaper for individuals and small businesses.

The judgment went against him, with the court ruling the claim invalid because the technology was "obvious" and "not significantly inventive".

The electronics giant also secured an injunction freezing Pavel's assets and ordered costs against him of more than pounds 1m.

Pavel, the youngest son of a wealthy German industrialist, will be ruined if he loses on appeal.

One colleague said: "This has paralysed his life for years."

But if the judgment goes against Sony, Pavel stands to become a very rich man, by qualifying for royalties of between 1 per cent and 5 per cent in Britain, equivalent to pounds 100m.