Who could guess that a chef who serves up tasty barbecue in a strip mall could also be the genius who invented the programmable television controller (remote control) that revolutionized the television industry?

Not only that, but the affable inventor’s early efforts in the ’70s also led to the precursor of the V-Chip, technology that is used in the television industry to block out violent and objectionable programs that could be seen by young children.

It may seem implausible, but Joe Jackson, 70, owner of Uncle Joe’s Barbecue in Hawthorne, is nothing but ordinary.

Jackson’s fertile mind recently invented the Fem-Choice, a cd designed to help young girls reaching puberty to monitor and predict their menstrual cycles.

The product was recently approved by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which will offer the Fem-Choice cd-rom to fifth grade girls at 639 schools in the fall. The Fem-Choice will also be manufactured as a hand held device that can be slipped into a pocket or purse.

Jackson also holds a patent for a fertility predictor, a device that would allow a woman of child bearing age to predict ovulation each month. The device can be used instead of birth control pills, IUDs and other contraceptive methods that cause harmful side effects.

The inventive Jackson also holds six U.S. patents in the area of telecommunications as well as several copyrights, trademarks, and pending patents that pertain to aircraft security and tracking systems.

Jackson rose from humble beginnings in Harvey, Louisiana. The fourth of eight children, he recalls that from the time he was a child, his mind was always spinning with ideas.

“I was always interested in fixing things. When I was five, I’d listen to the radio and wonder how did they put the little people inside the radio to make the sound,” chuckles Jackson. “I recall pulling off the front of the radio to try to find out where they were hiding.”

Even though he lacked the technical skills to become an inventor, Jackson never let barriers detour him from pursuing his dreams. “My father was a carpenter. I used to watch my father go to an empty lot. Before you knew it, he had built a building on that lot with his own two hands. That showed me that something could be built from nothing–and that planted in my mind that nothing was impossible.”

A high school dropout who eventually obtained his GED, Jackson developed a fascination with technology and electronics as a youth. He attended television repair school at night and eventually operated a radio and television repair shop while stationed as a soldier in Fayette, North Carolina. Next came a degree in business administration from Columbia College in Columbia, Mo.

Jackson said that the concept for the remote control, which he calls the programmable television controller, occurred in 1976. “One morning at around 4 a.m., I sat up in bed and started scribbling down an idea for a television device that could block out objectionable programs,” recalls Jackson. “I studied the TV guide and I saw that it contained seven days of information. I knew that I had to find out how to store the data, time and channel information into a memory device in conjunction with a clock in order to make the idea work.”

After tinkering with the concept for several years, Jackson conceived the earliest model of the remote control. He patented his creation in 1978. “My idea was to allow parents to block out violent and objectionable programming that they didn’t want their children to watch,” said Jackson. Calling his creation the TeleCommander, Jackson founded his own company, Protelcon, Inc. in 1993 to market and distribute the product.

By the mid-90s, Jackson was summoned before Congress to demonstrate his device. “At the time, there was a big controversy surrounding the major networks–NBC, ABC, FOX and CBS. The government had them on the hot seat for airing violent and objectionable programming on television.”

But what should have been the road to worldwide acclaim and riches came crashing down when a bad business deal caused Jackson to lose the patent on his invention. “I merged Protelcon with another company called Music Semi-Conductors, Inc. in 1994. Before the ink was dry on the contract, they absconded with my patent,” Jackson recalls.

Jackson said that he and his business partner, James Burns, took Music Semi-Conductors to court several times. “But we got burned,” Jackson recalls. “Our lawyers sided with Music Semi-Conductor because they had deep pockets. My partner and I spent over $100,000 in lawyer’s fees attempting to buy back the patent for my invention but we were left out in the cold.”
Although the memory is still painful and his invention continues to reap millions worldwide, Jackson said he is extremely proud that the V-chip technology and the remote control have gained global popularity.

“It still makes me proud that my seven-day timer is on VCRs all over the world and I still have the original patents to prove that,” said Jackson. But he also noted black inventors do not get the recognition like megastar black athletes and entertainers. “Inventing is an area that black people are not noted for,” he observed. “Blacks buy and use everything, but we very seldom manufacture or control products.”

With a mind that is always percolating with ideas, Jackson said there are at least 20 or 30 other inventions on his mental drawing board. “Some are products for the deaf, some are tracking and security systems for airplanes, and some are inventions for children.” The inventor said he hopes to start another company in the near future to market his inventions.

And Jackson said that he plans to reach out to other African American inventors who have like-minded goals. “I’ve always said that whatever I do next had to be a big idea, global in scope, intellectually challenging, and it had to make a notable difference in the lives of others,” said Jackson. “I plan to seek out like-minded individuals to assist me in achieving these goals.”

So how did a prolific inventor wind up serving finger licking ribs at a barbecue restaurant?
Jackson chuckles. “I had a family member running the restaurant, but she eventually went back home, so here I am,” Jackson said as he scurries to a table and scribbles down a customer’s order.
Joe N. Jackson can be reached by calling (310) 259-9789 or by email at joeinventr@aol.com.