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Pixel™

Attention—you just violated a trademark

Posted: By Jon Peddie 09.11.20

Pixels™, from rock groups to clothing, to pinpoints of light, they have been an intrinsic part of our life, vocabulary, and concept since the 1800s. Alas no longer may we use it with abandon, it is now the property of Google™.

The term “Pixel™” can be found throughout our industry and many others. A “pixel™” is the smallest element of the screen. Displays present an image by drawing pixels™ on a screen. 

According to a published paper by Richard F. Lyon (1952 - ), who is credited with inventing of the optical mouse, the term “pixel™”, for picture element, first appeared in two 1965 SPIE Proceedings articles by Fred C. Billingsley (1921 – 2002) of Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Billingsley was an American engineer, who spent most of his career developing techniques for digital image processing in support of American space probes to the moon, to Mars, and to other planets. 

Also, Russell A. Kirsch (June 20, 1929 – August 11, 2020) was an American engineer at the National Bureau of Standards (now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology) is credited with the first use of the term Pixel™... He was recognized as the developer of the first digital image scanner and is inextricably associated with the pixel™.

Before the term, Pixel™ became popular, but after Billingsley’s paper, IBM used the term “PEL XE or PEL—a contraction of “picture element”. And in a paper in the Proceedings of the IEEE in 1967 William F. Schreiber (1925 – 2000) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) used it. Schreiber was involved in image processing systems, including printing, graphic arts, including color correction, color printing, and laser scanner and recorder design, in facsimile, and in television. 

PEL and Pixel™ appeared in textbooks in the late 1970s. However, for a decade before that the image processing and video coding field used the terms, usually interchangeably. Since the 1970s however, pixel™ has become the popular term, used in the fields of computer graphics, displays, printers, scanners, cameras, and related technologies. 

Its history is even older, depending on how one translates German. Paul Nipkow (1860 – 1940), considered the father of TV, filed a patent in Germany in 1884 on his application of mechanical-scanning TV or Elektrisches Teleskop, in which he referred to Bildpunkte—literally picture points but now universally translated as “pixels™”. Nipkow was so adored, Germany named its first public television channel, started in Berlin in 1935, Fernsehsender Paul Nipkow. Nipkow is considered the “spiritual father” of the core element of first-generation television technology. 

Father of the term Pixel™ (1874) 

However, in Lyons’s paper, he goes back even further to 1874 and credits Hermann Voge (1834 – 1898), a German photochemist and photographer who discovered dye sensitization, as having used the term in photography as the point in the focal plane of a camera lens where rays from an object point converge. 

Father of the term Pixel™, Hermann W. Vogel, scanned from his book. (Source: Wikipedia)

 

Pixels™ are thought of as the quantum elements of the screen Quantum is the Latin word for amount and, in modern understanding, means the smallest possible discrete unit of any physical property (and usually used in describing energy or matter). 

The term Pixel is really quite old and very well defined. 

As old and integrated in our lives as the word and term pixel™ is, it no longer ours to use freely and willy-nilly as we choose—it is now the sole property of the great and glorious Google, the giver of all that is good, and good for you.

In May of this year the U.S. Patent Office, in all its gloriously blithe ignorance, awarded Google LLC the trademark (Serial number 87643989) on the word and term Pixel™.

Google, with the protection of the U.S government, may use the word for computer hardware; computers; tablet computers; smartphones; mobile phones; electronic devices for browsing computers and the Internet, providing access to the Internet, viewing information on global computer networks, voice command and recognition, speech-to-text conversion, personal information management, voice and data transmission, and hands-free use and remote control of electronic devices; multifunctional electronic devices for voice and data transmission; handheld digital electronic devices for recording, organizing, transmitting, manipulating, and reviewing text, data, image, and audio files; wireless communication devices for voice, data and image transmission including voice, text and picture messaging, video and still image camera; wireless communication device for providing real-time translation, for browsing the internet, for transmitting voice and data, for providing and managing personal information, and for providing hands-free use and control of computers, tablets, phones, and PDAs; computer and hardware microprocessor chips; computer and hardware chips for mobile devices, namely, laptops, handheld computers, tablets, wearable headsets, mobile phones, and smartphones; data processing and machine learning systems composed of computer chips, computer hardware, and software; computer operating software; computer application software for use with smartphones, tablets, handheld computers, audio/video equipment, cameras, wearable computers, smartwatches, and wearable computing devices, namely, for allowing the user to interact with, exchange data with, remotely control and make optimal use of the features of all aforesaid mobile computing devices and for the retrieval, download, storage, transmission, and display of digital content, computer software, computer games, audio works, visual works, audiovisual works, electronic publications, books, movies, and music; computer software for voice command and recognition, speech-to-text conversion, personal information management, and accessing, browsing, searching, downloading, and manipulating online databases, audio, video, and multimedia content; audio speakers; earbuds; earphones; headphones; microphones; power adapters, battery chargers, electric charging cables, and cases specifically adapted for and used for charging earbuds, earphones, and headphones; cushions, pads, cases, covers, and protective covers specially adapted for mobile phones, smartphones, and electronic devices; computer peripherals, namely, hands-free devices, headsets, keyboards, chargers, batteries, power adapters, styluses and cables, all for use with computers, tablets, mobile phones, and smartphones.

It also has the right and privilege to use it for goods and service in the design, development, and testing services for others in the fields of integrated circuits, semiconductors, microprocessors, and computer hardware for signal processing, signal conversion, signal filtering, wireless communication, and audio, visual, and data processing.

And internationally it can use it for Scientific, nautical, surveying, electric, photographic, cinematographic, optical, weighing, measuring, signaling, checking (supervision), life-saving and teaching apparatus and instruments; apparatus for recording, transmission or reproduction of sound or images; magnetic data carriers, recording discs; automatic vending machines and mechanisms for coin-operated apparatus; cash registers, calculating machines, data processing equipment and computers; fire-extinguishing apparatus; scientific, nautical, surveying, electric, photographic, cinematographic, optical, weighing, measuring, signaling, checking (supervision), life-saving and teaching apparatus and instruments; apparatus for recording, transmission or reproduction of sound or images; magnetic data carriers, recording discs; automatic vending machines and mechanisms for coin-operated apparatus; cash registers, calculating machines, data processing equipment and computers; fire-extinguishing apparatus.

This is covered un U.S. Class Codes 100, 101. You can find more information of what all Google owns relative to the term Pixel™ here.

A start-up in Silicon Valley by the name of Silicon Pixels was told by Google to cease and desist from using their name. Google ended up buying the name.

There is another company in Silicon Valley, Pixelworks who may be in Google’s legal crosshairs, after a quick search (using Google of course) of Pixel Inc revealed several more organizations with problematic. 

While Google goes about shutting those firms down we in the meantime will have to be respectful of Google’s trademark and be sure to use the superscript trademark symbol ™ whenever using the term (or word) Pixel™.

In the meantime, I have filled for trademarks on the words raytracing, ray-tracing, and ray tracing, as well as AI, AR, VR, XR, and yourmomma’sR. As soon as I get the award my lawyers will be in touch with you. In the meantime, may the pixels™ be with you.

Epilog

In mid-August of this year, Russell Kirsch, listed as the inventor of the Pixel™, passed away.

This 172 x 172-pixel image of his son Walden—created in 1957—is now iconic, and was named one of Life magazine’s “100 Photographs That Changed the World” in 2003.