Oral History Interviews

Interviews that offer unique insights into the lives, works, and personalities of modern scientists

Robert Dicke describes the patenting of the laser.

Oral history audio excerpt

Robert Dicke describes the patenting of the laser.

Bromberg:

Is this a situation where, for example, we might expect you to have been in closer contact with people like the Stanford people, like Bloch's group, than with Townes' group?

Dicke:

I can't recall any correspondence with the Stanford group at all. Another uh, kind of interesting story connected with, this time, the laser — of course, as soon as the maser was developed, it was clear that there was a possibility of doing this optically — and um, I remember a Physical Society meeting in Washington, I can't say when, but it was certainly after my patent was issued, because I saw Charlie [Townes] and I asked, "How are things going?" He mentioned that he had a good way of building a resonator for this, I don't know whether he called it "laser" or not, but the maser to operate with light waves. He said, "All you have to do is put a couple of mirrors on it." I said, "That's great, Charlie, but it's not new, because I've got it in the patent." I think that patent was already issued at that time. I had the reflecting plates on it.

Bromberg:

Do you remember anything about the origin of that idea of using reflecting plates? I also wanted to know why you were putting infrared radiation in there, whether you had some specific idea in mind?

Dicke:

I was consulting with RCA at the time, and it seemed like a kind of cute idea. I didn't have anything specific in mind to do with it. It was hard for me to convince RCA that this was an important invention. I actually wrote up three separate patent disclosures on various aspects of this thing, and they thought, well, it might be worth patenting if they would combine all three in one. So, the result is [that] the patent application's a great mess, because they put too many things in it.