Williams patent trial enters final phase–Carol Hazard Hughes News Quarterly International Edition January-March 1988 Transcribed by Fatih MacPherson

Hughes is on the home stretch of a complex, lengthy legal dispute spanning two decades over a patent relating to space technology.

The company is seeking $1.2 billion in damages from the U.S. government for use of the Williams patent on more than 100 spacecraft.

The patent was filed by Hughes in 1960 in the name of Donald Williams, a Hughes physicist, whose invention was critical to the development and success of the communications satellites.

The trial, which opened in the Los Angeles area to hear testimony from West Coast witnesses, has moved to the U.S. Court of Claims in Washington, D.C., where proceedings resumed.

Witnesses who have testified on behalf of Hughes include Chairman of the Board Albert Wheelon who, in an unusual court session, gave his testimony in Space and Communications Group’s High Bay, and retired Chairman Albert E. Puckett, who testified in court.

The government has indicated that it plans to put between 90 and 100 people on the witness stand to refute the company’s claims to compensation under the Williams patent.

Hughes has battled to protect its patent rights almost since the time the invention was first used in 1963 on Syncom, the first synchronous satellite.

Crucial issues involving the scope of the patent were resolved in Hughes’ favor in a September 1983 decision by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit after being tangled in a complicated string of legal actions. Validity of the Williams patent, which also was disputed, was affirmed in the same decision.

During the present phase of the proceedings, the question is not whether patent rights were violated, but how much money will be awarded for the infringements.

The courts will determine the number of spacecraft that have infringed, a royalty rate for the use of the invention, and the amount of money to be awarded as delay compensation.

Hughes’ request for $1.2 billion involves a royalty rate of 15 per cent of the cost of each spacecraft based on a precedent set in 1965 in which INTELSAT, the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, acting through its U.S. agent, COMSAT, agreed to pay Hughes 15 per cent for using the invention on its commercial spacecraft.

The Williams invention made possible a spacecraft whose attitude could be controlled through “precession,” a type of motion achieved by spin-synchronous pulsing of thrusters.

The brilliant Mr. Williams, who died in 1966 at the age of 34, was selected by the U.S. Chamber Commerce as one of the nation’s outstanding young men of 1965 for his invention.

He had worked with Harold Rosen, now a Hughes vice president, and Tom Hudspeth, a Space and Communications Group chief scientist, to build Syncom, the first satellite to provide communications over a portion of the Earth.

During the development stage, when funding of his work on the satellite was jeopardized, Mr. Williams volunteered his life savings to keep the program alive.

Chairman Emeritus L.A. “Pat” Hyland, who then was vice president and general manager remembered the day: “When he put that check down on my desk, I became convinced that this type of dedication just had to be supported.”

Despite leading to systematic coverage of the globe, Syncom was initially met with skepticism and its makers were hard pressed to find a customer. Someone reportedly remarked after a presentation made at the 1961 Paris Air Show that the Eiffel Tower was “as high as it (Syncom) would ever get.”

General mistrust involved doubts about such revolutionary technology as well as concerns about the quality of voice communications from a satellite in as high an orbit as 22,300 miles above Earth, where the satellite would appear stationary above a specific area of the globe.

Hughes persisted, however, and NASA was eventually persuaded to buy and launch Syncom.

The first Syncom, launched in February 1963, exploded before reaching its final orbit. Five months later, however, Syncom II was launched into synchronous orbit, where it heralded a new era in instant communications.

NASA, which had funded the project, requested in 1966 that the U.S. Patent Office issue the Williams patent to NASA instead of Hughes.

NASA claimed that the Williams invention was first reduced to practice during the performance of the NASA Syncom contract, thereby making NASA the owner of the patent.

Hughes countered that Mr. Williams had built a working model prior to the NASA contract and that the invention was, thereby, first reduced to practice in a Hughes laboratory using company funds.

The U.S. Patent Office Board of Patent Interferences sided with NASA, but the adverse 1969 ruling was appealed and, in 1972, the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals agreed with and gave title to Hughes.

The Williams patent was issued to Hughes Sept. 11, 1973. The matter, however, was far from being resolved.

Government satellites built by other companies were using the Williams invention without compensation to Hughes. Hughes consequently sued the government for infringement Nov. 13, 1973.

The practice of suing the government for patent infringement is not uncommon, said Hughes patent attorney Steve Mitchell. As a result of pre-award negotiations with bidders, the government often assumes infringement liability to shield contractors from legal actions by patent owners, he explained.

The Hughes versus the U.S. government case dragged on, as often happens with patent infringement lawsuits and over the years, became snagged in a web of legal actions.

These included a ruling in 1979 that the Williams patent was invalid, which was reversed a year later by the Court of Claims.

In another development in 1982, the patent was declared valid, but limited in that it did not apply to new technology that enabled satellite control commands to be stored in an onboard computer and later executed automatically instead of in real time, as was the case with Syncom. Hughes appealed and the ruling was overturned in 1983.

During the 15 years that the case has been pending, numerous government-procured spacecraft have infringed the patent.

In the meantime, Hughes sued Ford Aerospace and Communications Corporation for using the Williams patent on the commercial Intelsat V series of spacecraft. This case was dismissed last year after Ford agreed to settle out of court. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

The trial in process is the final leg of a 21-year legal dispute in which Hughes has not wavered from its original position stated Feb. 3, 1967, when the company began its battle against NASA in the U.S. Patent Office to establish ownership of the Williams invention and the right to be compensated for its use.




New satellite design to meet high-power needs Hughes News Quarterly International Edition October-December 1987 Carol Hazard Associate Editor transcribed by Faith MacPherson

Hughes plans to build a new body-stabilized satellite that will fill a new market in high-power space communications. The announcement was made at Telecom ’87, an eight-day conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

Hughes representatives invited to speak at the conference were Chairman of the Board Albert Wheelon, Vice President Harold Rosen, and chief scientist Bruno Miglio.

Development of the HS-601 body-stabilized satellite marks the seventh and largest investment in satellite design since the company began building spacecraft 28 years ago.

The HS-601’s high-power capabilities will enable satellite services, such as direct broadcast, mobile communications, and private business networks, through antenna dishes known as VSAT, or very small aperture terminals. VSATs mounted on homes, cars, planes, or at business sites will be used to gain direct satellite access.

Designed by Space and Communications Group to fill this market, the HS-601 signals a new direction in the Group’s tradition of building satellites. It will complement services provided by the Group’s long line of spinning spacecraft.HS601

“We have found it necessary, because of changing launch vehicle capacities and customer requirements, to make major investments in new designs on six occasions,” said Dr. Rosen.

“This is the seventh such investment, and is the biggest and most important since the original Syncom.”

Syncom’s first-of-its-kind spinning configuration was conceived by Dr. Rosen, who, along with Senior Scientist Tom Hudspeth and the late Don Williams, invented the pioneering satellite.

Syncom was launched in 1963 and was the first satellite whose orbit was synchronized to that of Earth’s, making it appear stationary over a specific area of the globe. The result was continuous communications, which led to 24-hour worldwide coverage.

Since then, Hughes has built 66 commercial communications satellites, 34 of which account for more than half of those in operation today. All have relied on the operational simplicity of spin-stabilization.

“In the area of orbit and attitude control, the spinners win hands down,” said Dr. Rosen.

Only four thrusters are used to periodically tweak a “spinner’s” orbit and orientation to Earth compared to at least 12 thrusters required to perform the same functions on a body-stabilized satellite.

Dr. Rosen explained that stability produced by the spin also keeps propellant from sloshing about, controls temperature by exposing all sides of the satellite evenly to sun and shade, and make spacecraft nearly impervious to external influences in space.

Because of their operational simplicity spinners are better suited for low and medium-power applications, such as domestic telephone and television services, than body-stabilized satellites, said Dr. Rosen.

“A body-stabilized satellite is much more sensitive to external influences, and its attitude control is more complex and subtle,” he explained.

“But, in the area of power generation,” Dr. Rosen continued, “the body-stabilized configuration has the big advantage.”

Elongated solar panel “wings” capture the sun’s energy three times as effectively as the cylindrical panels on spin-stabilized satellites.

The HS-601 can handle up to 6000 watts of power. The spinner’s practical limit is considerably lower. Although no applications at this time require as much energy as the HS 601 is capable of accommodating, the satellite will be able to meet any future needs, said Dr. Rosen.

Despite power generation shortcomings, Hughes’ spin-stabilized satellites kept up with increasing power demands through improvement in solar cell efficiency. When solar cell technology began to level off in the late 1970s, it became increasingly difficult for the company to meet higher power demands, said Dr. Rosen.

The disadvantage, however, was offset by having satellites that could be launched from the Space Shuttle and whose launch costs were low.

With shuttle flights cancelled after the Challenger exploded in January 1986, the cost-savings factor disappeared. Other launch vehicle failures underscored the importance of having a spacecraft compatible with a variety of launch services.

The HS-601 can be launched from the U.S. rockets Titan and Atlas Centaur, the European Ariane, and Long March built by the People’s Republic of China, as well as the Space Shuttle.

Stowed for launch, the satellite folds into an eight-foot cube. Depending upon the number of solar panels used, it can unfold to more than 100 feet in the highest power configuration.

Subsidiary first to order new high-power satellites

The first bid for two of the company’s HS-601 body-stabilized satellites has been placed by a Hughes subsidiary.

Hughes Communications, Inc. has requested authorization from the Federal Communications Commission to construct, launch, and operate one spin-stabilized C-band satellite and two body-stabilized Ka-band satellites.

Both satellite designs are products of Space and Communications Group.

The spin-stabilized satellite, to be known as Galaxy V, will be the fifth in HCI’s fleet of HS-376 satellites that is used to transmit cable and other TV programming, radio, and business communications.

The proposed HS-601 body-stabilized satellites, to be known as Galaxy C and D, will kick off HCI’s planned Ka-band system. The new system is expected to open markets in direct broadcast, mobile communications and private business networks through the use of small Earth terminals.

Very small aperture terminals are produced by Hughes Network Systems (HNS), a new subsidiary whose purchase gave HCI the capability of offering a full range of satellite services.

The Galaxy Ka-band system is expected to support as many as several hundred thousand very small aperture terminals for private business networks by the year 2000, said Bruce Elbert, Galaxy program director. If authorized it will be in operation of the early 1990s.

Although the Galaxy satellites are owned and operated by HCI, their transponders are sold or leased to private companies. All of the major cable carriers, including HBO, Showtime, MTV, cable News Network, and the Discovery Cannel use the Galaxy C-band network.


Comment by Steve Dorfman

A very challenging business decision which exceeded our expectations but at the time was quite risky. The mindset going in was if it doesn’t spin we won’t win but we read the future correctly, the importantance of high power. Not only did we sell lots of HS 601s but we opened up the opportunity for new applications the most important of which was DirecTV.


Hughes Strikes Back—Chris Cutroneo

My poster, “Hughes Aircraft Strikes Back,” was drawn shortly before the STS41-D mission was launched on August 30, 1984, while I was a member of the Hughes Leasat Mission Operations Team. The theme was selected as a result of the Shuttle launching Leasat, Telstar and SBS (all Hughes spacecraft) AND STS41-D being the first launch after the February 3 STS41-B Launch and deployment of Hughes-built Palapa B2 and Westar VI spacecraft which subsequently failed to reach orbit due to failure of their Perigee Kick Motors (PKM). We felt our reputation had been damaged and now we had an opportunity to get back on track with the launch of 3 new satellites to orbit, only 7 months after the dual failures. The spirit (and reputation) of Hughes Space and Comm would be back! On top of that, Leasat was the first shuttle-optimized spacecraft to be launched by NASA.

The drawing idea came from a combination of the original Star Wars poster, which had been released in 1977, and the title of its 1980 sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back.” So I married the vision of the heroic themed movie poster with Luke and Leia in the center (that was the Hughes team!) with the defiant wording of the sequel (look – we’re back!) to come up with something that really captured the moment after the dual launch failure.

Months after the successful launch and all three deployments, the Discovery crew came to visit the Hughes Mission Control Center (MCC). The entire STS41-D crew, including Judy Resnik, who died less than a year later on the Challenger, signed the poster. It should forever be remembered that Greg Jarvis, the first Leasat Spacecraft Bus Systems Engineer, also perished on the Challenger.

Many Hughesites had their own individual experiences during this intense time period that involved these three programs as well as many other programs not mentioned here. We encourage others to put their comments and new posts to the Hughes SCG Heritage website so these memories are not lost.

Poster provided courtesy of Chris Cutroneo

Poster provided courtesy of Chris Cutroneo.

Comment by Andy Ott

As if launch preparations at Hughes were not already nerve wracking, the STS41-D launch had originally been scheduled for 6/26/1984 but on 6/25, workers digging a storm drain in El Segundo accidentally severed underground phone lines such that there was no communication in or out of the HCI Mission Control Center in S66, which at that time was used for both launch operations as well as planned On-orbit operations for Leasat. This would be the first launch support from that facility for Leasat. Hughes Space and Communications (SCG) quickly established an emergency backup MCC in the Building S41 Orbital Dynamics Lab by moving spare equipment, including the spare PDP 1134 Command and Telemetry processing computer from the actual MCC. The Orbital Dynamics Lab already had a PDP 1170 with Leasat unique software as it was used for mission planning.          Upon pressure from Hughes, the telephone company dispatched several trucks to the site, worked overnight, and was able to repair the lines without delaying the countdown. Launch, however, was aborted during the final countdown due to Shuttle problems so the emergency backup was not needed.

Question for the “Hughesites” of the 1980’s” – Do you think Hughes would have called a halt to the launch countdown, considering this was the first Leasat to be launched, it was the first shuttle optimized spacecraft, and it had two other Hughes built spacecraft on-board, if the communication lines had not been reestablished prior to launch? More details of this launch can be found in The Leasat Story. I encourage all involved to add their stories to this exceptional poster.