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Charles Walton, father of RFID technology, dies at 89

Amar Toor, @amartoo
11.29.11
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We have some somber news to bring you today: Charles Walton, the man who pioneered the rise of RFID technology, has died at the age of 89. The Cornell-educated entrepreneur garnered more than 50 patents over the course of his career, but it only took one to cement his legacy -- a 1973 patent for a "Portable radio frequency emitting identifier." It may not have been the first RFID-related invention, but Walton's breakthrough would prove to be foundational, spawning many similar patents, including ten from the creator himself. It all began at the Army Signal Corps, where Walton worked after studying electrical engineering at Cornell and earning a Master's degrees in electrical engineering and economics of engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology. In 1960, he accepted a position at IBM, where he conducted research on disc drives before founding his own company, Proximity Devices, in 1970.

It was at Proximity where many of Walton's patents came to life, including his initial design, which he developed alongside the Schlage lock company and eventually licensed to other firms, as well. He would go on to earn millions from his technology, though as Venture Beat points out, he may have been a bit too far ahead of the curve. Many of Walton's patents expired by the time RFID devices caught on with big spenders like the Department of Defense and Wal-Mart, thereby excluding him from any subsequent windfall. But that didn't seem to bother him too much, as evidenced in a 2004 interview with Venture Beat: "I feel good about it and gratified I could make a contribution."

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