1940s glamour movie star Hedy Lamarr held the patent for Digital Spread Spectrum, the technology that provides the basis for advanced radio, telephone and cellular communications?
Back in late-1930s Austria, the young film star attended countless technical conferences with her husband, an arms merchant supplying the Nazi regime. Lamarr soon escaped Europe (and her husband) for Hollywood, but took with her an understanding of electronics.
Some time later, while at a party with composer George Antheil, Lamarr hit on the concept of frequency-hopping, breaking radio transmissions into smaller pieces. Antheil, using his expertise in synchronizing piano players, contributed his understanding of the logistics to actually make the idea work. Although the 1942 patent Lamarr and Antheil filed could have helped the U.S. government in its war efforts, the technology was not used until the 1962 Cuban missile crisis--three years after the patent had expired.
Gene Koprowski has covered the tech industry for 11 years and writes a monthly computing column for The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition. Contact him at email@example.com