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Optigan Patents

Posted by peahix on April 23rd, 2006

When Miner made their public warning to Chilton in the NAMM daily about probable patent violations concerning the Optigan vs the Talentmaker, they cited several patents which they legally owned. These are most likely not ALL the patents, but probably the ones they felt were most pertinent to their case at the time. I sent away for these patents, and have converted them to .pdf format for your downloading pleasure.

These patents offer several striking revelations. The first is an absolute confirmation of something that Mike had mentioned to me: that Mattel bought up all of Harry Chamberlin’s patents for the Chamberlin, presumably in order to avoid legal hassles and also to cut out potential competition. Of course, they never actually DID anything with these patents, and never utilized any of Harry’s designs, but they owned them and controlled them nonetheless.

Also, a very interesting patent appears here from 1965, which may or may not have had a direct impact on the design concept of the Optigan. It’s for an instrument called the "Photoelectric Organ," invented by Harold F. Rieth and patented by Packard Bell. Essentially it works just like an Optigan, except that instead of spinning interchangeable discs, it spins a permanently mounted cylinder which contained several different kinds of sounds placed side by side. The idea was that you could slide a lever to select a new sound, and the light detector would simply shift over relative to the cylinder and read a new set of tracks. I can only presume that this instrument never got past the prototype phase. The real mystery is whether or not this patent was the actual source of the "optical rings of soundtrack" concept. Mike tells me that the earliest design for the Optigan featured an Edison-Cylinder type medium and a keyboard which lowered needles onto the grooves. But he wasn’t actually working for Optigan at that stage, and does not know exactly how the switch was made to the optical format. In any event, Mattel apparently bought the Rieth patent too, to cover themselves legally.

The rest of the patents, of course, deal with the Optigan itself. It’s interesting to note the different kinds of disc drive mechanisms, etc, that were invented and considered. There are even patents for a velocity-sensitive keyboard and a disc-based tremolo effect. Apart from their wealth of technical info, the patents also supply us with the names of the folks who invented Optigan’s various components. I’ve had some luck in contacting some of these people, and information about them may be found on the Optigan Employees page.


  • 3657459 Musical Instrument With Variable Amplitude
  • 3657460 Organ Keyboard Switching System
  • 3720415 Disc Drive
  • 3724860 Optical Disc Drive For Organ
  • D224444 Keyboard For Musical Instrument Or The Like
  • D224270 Cabinet For Keyboard Instrument Or The Like
  • 3694660 Radiation Sensitive Readout Head With Circuit Board Construction
  • 3647927 Electronic Organ Wherein Musical Sounds And A Tremolo Effect Are Provided By Electro-Optical Apparatus


  • 3272907 Electrical Musical Instrument Having Pre-Recorded Tape For Tone Generation
  • 3567840 Tape Drive Mechanism For Electrical Musical Instruments
  • 2910298 Sound Reproducing System
  • 3278188 Multi-Tape Reproducer With Single Pickup Head
  • 3250847 Musical Instrument With Record Type Tone Generator
  • 2940351 Magnetic Tape Sound Reproducing Musical Instrument

Packard Bell

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