Concepts, Actors and Practices from the Past to the Present
Queen Mary Studies in Intellectual Property series
Edited by Stathis Arapostathis and Graham Dutfield
Chapter 8: From colour TV war to non-aggression pact: Patents as actants of techno-political diplomacy in a European standardization process
When the Americans started regular colour television transmissions on the basis of the NTSC-system in 1954, most European countries were concerned about realizing a television infrastructure for black and white. But despite this ‘technological gap’ between the two continents, the technology of colour television soon became an object of scientific study for European television engineers. The BBC had started experimenting with colour television in 1956 on the basis of NTSC. But Britain was not the only country to experiment with colour in Europe. By 1956 the French television pioneer Henri de France, inventor of the 819-line system, had developed an alternative system called ‘Séquentiel Couleur à Mémoire’ (SECAM). Although it was based on the principal inventions of NTSC, the transmission method of the colour signal was varied. SECAM promised to solve one of the biggest vulnerabilities of NTSC, namely its sensitivity to phase shifting, influenced by the topographic structure of a country (mountains) or a city (skyscrapers). With the support of two of the biggest enterprises in French industry, the electronics groups Compagnie de Télégraphie sans Fil (CSF) and the glass manufacturer Saint-Gobain, de France’s invention was scientifically studied, technically improved and developed into a real industrial alternative to NTSC. The French were not alone in studying and trying to ameliorate the American system. In the Netherlands, the renowned Philips research laboratories (Nat-Lab) made intensive colour television experiments but their efforts were, however, concentrated on research and development of an alternative to the RCA shadow-mask colour television tube, and in the Federal Republic of Germany, the Telefunken television laboratory in Hanover worked on an NTSC-variant heavily inspired by SECAM (Fickers, 2007).
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