I pressed the button, and suddenly we were
floating. It was an incredible feeling.
- ANDREAS PAVEL
IN the late 1960's,
Andreas Pavel and his friends gathered regularly at his house here to
listen to records, from Bach to Janis Joplin, and talk politics and
philosophy. In their flights of fancy, they wondered why it should not
be possible to take their music with them wherever they went.
Inspired by those discussions, Mr. Pavel invented the device known
today as the Walkman. But it took more than 25 years of battling the
Sony Corporation and others in courts and patent offices around the
world before he finally won the right to say it: Andreas Pavel invented
the portable personal stereo player.
"I filed my first patent a
complete innocent, thinking it would be a simple matter, 12 months or
so, to establish my ownership and begin production," he said at the
house where he first conceived of the device. "I never imagined that it
would end up consuming so much time and taking me away from my real
interests in life."
In person, Mr. Pavel seems an unlikely
protagonist in such an epic struggle. He is an intellectual with a
gentle, enthusiastic, earnest demeanor, more interested in ideas and
the arts than in commerce, cosmopolitan by nature and upbringing.
Born in Germany, Mr. Pavel came to Brazil at age 6, when his father was
recruited to work for the Matarazzo industrial group, at the time the
most important one here. His mother, Ninca Bordano, an artist, had a
house built for the family with a studio for her and an open-air salon
with high-end audio equipment, meant for literary and musical
Except for a period in the mid-1960's when he
studied philosophy at a German university, Mr. Pavel, now 59, spent his
childhood and early adulthood here in South America's largest city, "to
my great advantage," he said. It was a time of creative and
intellectual ferment, culminating in the Tropicalist movement, and he
was delighted to be part of it.
When TV Cultura, a Brazilian
station, was licensed to go on the air, Mr. Pavel was hired to be its
director of educational programming. After he was forced to leave
because of what he says was political pressure, he edited a "Great
Thinkers" book series for Brazil's leading publishing house in another
effort to "counterbalance the censorship and lack of information" then
In the end, what drove Mr. Pavel back to Europe was
his discontent with the military dictatorship then in power in Brazil.
By that time, though, he had already invented the device he initially
called the stereobelt, which he saw more as a means to "add a
soundtrack to real life" than an item to be mass marketed.
it was purely aesthetic," he said when asked his motivation in creating
a portable personal stereo player. "It took years to discover that I
had made a discovery and that I could file a patent."
still remembers when and where he was the first time he tested his
invention and which piece of music he chose for his experiment.
It was February 1972, he was in Switzerland with his girlfriend, and the cassette they heard playing on their headphones was "Push Push," a collaboration between the jazz flutist Herbie Mann and the blues-rock guitarist Duane Allman.
"I was in the woods in St. Moritz, in the mountains," he recalled. "The
snow was falling down. I pressed the button, and suddenly we were
floating. It was an incredible feeling, to realize that I now had the
means to multiply the aesthetic potential of any situation."
Over the next few years, he took his invention to one audio company
after another - Grundig, Philips, Yamaha and ITT among them - to see if
there was interest in manufacturing his device. But everywhere he went,
he said, he met with rejection or ridicule.
"They all said they
didn't think people would be so crazy as to run around with headphones,
that this is just a gadget, a useless gadget of a crazy nut," he said.
New York, where he moved in 1974, and then in Milan, where he relocated
in 1976, "people would look at me sometimes on a bus, and you could see
they were asking themselves, why is this crazy man running around with
Ignoring the doors slammed in his face, Mr. Pavel
filed a patent in March 1977 in Milan. Over the next year and a half,
he took the same step in the United States, Germany, England and Japan.
Sony started selling the Walkman in 1979, and in 1980 began
negotiating with Mr. Pavel, who was seeking a royalty fee. The company
agreed in 1986 to a limited fee arrangement covering sales only in
Germany, and then for only a few models.
So in 1989 he
began new proceedings, this time in British courts, that dragged on and
on, eating up his limited financial resources.
At one point, Mr.
Pavel said, he owed his lawyer hundreds of thousands of dollars and was
being followed by private detectives and countersued by Sony. "They had
frozen all my assets, I couldn't use checks or credit cards," and the
outlook for him was grim.
In 1996, the case was dismissed, leaving Mr. Pavel with more than $3 million in court costs to pay.
he persisted, warning Sony that he would file new suits in every
country where he had patented his invention, and in 2003, after another
round of negotiations, the company agreed to settle out of court.
Mr. Pavel declined to say how much Sony was obliged to pay him, citing
a confidentiality clause. But European press accounts said Mr. Pavel
had received a cash settlement for damages in the low eight figures and
was now also receiving royalties on some Walkman sales.
days, Mr. Pavel divides his time between Italy and Brazil, and once
again considers himself primarily a philosopher. But he is also using
some of his money to develop an invention he calls a dreamkit, which he
describes as a "hand-held, personal, multimedia, sense-extension
device," and to indulge his unflagging interest in music.
Recently, he has been promoting the career of Altamiro Carrilho, a
flutist whom he regards as the greatest living Brazilian musician. He
is also financing a project that he describes as the complete
discography of every record ever released in Brazil.
Some of his
friends have suggested he might have a case against the manufacturers
of MP3 players, reasoning that those devices are a direct descendant of
the Walkman. Mr. Pavel said that while he saw a kinship, he was not
eager to take on another long legal battle.
"I have known other
inventors in similar predicaments and most of them become that story,
which is the most tragic, sad and melancholic thing that can happen,"
he said. "Somebody becomes a lawsuit, he loses all interest in other
things and deals only with the lawsuit. Nobody ever said I was
obsessed. I kept my other interests alive, in philosophy and music and
"I didn't have time to pursue them, but now I have
reconquered my time," he continued. "So, no, I'm not interested anymore
in patents or legal fights or anything like that. I don't want to be
reduced to the label of being the inventor of the Walkman."