This article was written by the IP Team of InnoEnergy
We all read stories about the innovators of today and how their products or services make a difference. In this series of publications, we shed light on a side that remains often dark and unknown to the public: their patented inventions and what impact they have had on other innovators across society. We did the research and summarized our findings.
Although it is Neil Armstrong’s ‘small step’ that is celebrated as a ‘giant leap for mankind’ to this day, it would not have been possible without the software created by one woman - Margaret Hamilton.
Margaret Elaine Heafield Hamilton is one of the people credited with coming up with the term software engineering and in 1969, it was Margaret and her team at MIT that prevented the Apollo 11 moon landing from being aborted. Three minutes before the lunar module reached the lunar surface, several computer warnings were triggered. It was the priority alarm displays that she had programmed that interrupted the astronauts' normal displays to warn them that there was an emergency, giving the astronauts the chance to choose whether to land or not. Margaret was also responsible for developing the on-board flight software necessary to navigate to and from the Moon and to land on the Moon. Following the mission, parts of the code written by Margaret went on to be used in the first space station and also in the space shuttle program.
Born in Indiana, United States, Margaret went on to found software companies such as ‘Higher Order Software’ and 'Hamilton Technologies' following her work with the Apollo 11. In 2003, she was honored by NASA for her accomplishments in the development of the Apollo software and thus became the receiver of the biggest financial award given by NASA up to that point. In 2016, she won the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then president Barack Obama for her work on the Apollo 11. However, the Apollo 11 is not her only big achievement. She also worked on the software for the prototype of the version of the computer used by US Air Force to search for possibly unfriendly aircraft, a satellite tracking software and a weather prediction software that was developed to be used by the military in anti-aircraft air defense during the cold war. In 2017 she, along with a handful of other NASA women, got her own Lego figurine!
When Margaret Hamilton started using the term "software engineering", software development was not considered a science. Today, it is recognized, and extensively relied on by almost every industry.
It was in 1965 that Marty Goetz filed the first software patent in history leading to the start of a debate on whether that should even be allowed, that still goes on to this day. In the United States, following the ruling in Alice, the protection for software that is an invention and not merely an 'abstract idea' is as under ‘software patents’. However, in the EU, no such patent protection exists. However, there is protection for a computer-implemented invention. According to the European Patent office, a computer-implemented invention (CII) is an invention that involves the use of a computer, computer network or other programmable apparatus, where one or more features of the invention is realised wholly or partly by means of a computer program.
Margaret Hamilton not only ensured that man got to the moon but also opened up the doors, of a previously man-dominated field, to many more trailblazing women.
The authors of the publications have used publicly available information only and no private information was handed to them by the innovators or third parties.