20 April, 2009
I enjoyed your article on Ted Maiman and the Laser Evolution and wanted to respond with a few comments. I worked for Ted for almost 10 years and knew him well. He used to come into my office occasionally and we would chat on a variety of subjects. I owe it to him for the success of my career in the laser field. I used to be an active member of SPIE but am now retired.
My comment was oriented on one of his major endeavors that was never mentioned in the article. This was his struggle to obtain the patent rights on the laser.
If you look into the history, you will see that this patent was one of the most fought over in the history of the patent office. He always made the point that Schawlow & Townes' paper lacked the technical wherewithal to be reduced to practice. Finally, the one who did get the patent merely had an idea & not only could you not build a laser from their disclosure, that the fundamental theory on how lasers worked was missing.
Ted's paper was complete, because the theory disclosed in his patent was basically a recipe for building a successful laser.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The January 2009 issue of SPIE Professional carried an excerpt from Jeff Hecht's Laser Pioneers, a book about the history of the laser. Hecht's book and one by Maiman, himself, covers Maiman's struggle for recognition that he made the first working laser on May 16, 1960. For more information on the history of the laser, see jeffhecht.com.