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Joseph M. Jacobson

Electronic Ink

Patent No. 6,124,851

In the mid–1990s, Joseph Jacobson, a post-doctoral student at Stanford University, envisioned a book with content that could be changed and renewed at the push of a button. Jacobson set out to create a method for a changeable display, sketching out a system of black and white particles encapsulated in microspheres and embedded in a display medium. The microspheres, 30 microns in diameter and filled with a clear liquid that allowed the black and white particles to move around, would rise to the top of each capsule and become visible, depending on the electrical charge applied. This was the beginning of electronic ink.

A few years later, Jacobson — by now a professor in MIT’s Media Lab — enlisted students Barrett Comiskey, a math major, and JD Albert, a mechanical engineering major, to help advance the technology. In 1997, with Harvard Business School graduate Russ Wilcox and LexisNexis founder Jerome Rubin, the inventors launched E Ink — and a reading revolution. The first commercial e-reader using electronic ink was produced by Sony and introduced in 2004; Amazon and Barnes & Noble soon followed with their versions, making the technology a cornerstone of the e-reader and e-book industry.

Jacobson, Comiskey, and Albert continued to improve electronic ink, including a color display patented in 2007, based on the same fundamental technology, which has since found applications in commercial signage as well as in the displays of some cell phones and smartwatches. Jacobson earned his B.S. from Brown University and his Ph.D. from MIT, and is currently head of the MIT Media Lab’s Molecular Machines research group, which focuses on synthetic biology.

Patent Number

Born: June 28, 1965

Electronic Book with Multiple Page Displays

Patent No. 6,124,851

Issued September 26, 2000

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