Making monitors

The Guardian reports on scientist Ian Shanks’ legal battle to get some financial reward from his work developing the technology that underlies glucose sensors. I thought it quite an interesting story of innovation. He tried to find the ways to make cheap things useful as opposed to making useful things cheap:

Shanks's big brainwave came shortly after he joined Unilever in the summer of 1982. He had a hunch that he could use mass-production LCD technology to make electrical or optical biosensors. These measure the concentration of a chemical that is of biological or medical interest. If a liquid, such as blood, could be sucked into a cell between two glass plates the same sort of technology as a liquid crystal cell you could calculate the exact amount captured there. And if one of those plates was coated in a material that broke up the molecule you wanted to measure, such as glucose, you could determine its concentration within the blood. "I thought about it a while, and I demonstrated it at home using glass slides from my daughter's toy microscope kit," says Shanks.

Anyway, he never got a penny above his regular salary. My sympathies are limited, since he was after all an employee of the company and chose to work under their constraints. But I guess I’m glad I’m not working in an area that gives rise to lots of patents.