It was a charming moment at the close of this year’s Cable Show: CableLabs CEO Dick Green pushing the wheelchair for CableLabs Founder Richard Leghorn up to the podium after Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts’ nearly impromptu (after a "teleprompter moment") but in any case fulsome introduction.

The occasion was Leghorn’s reception of a Special Vanguard Award for Outstanding Contribution for his role in the creation of CableLabs.

Leghorn’s own speech rambled, but did so while touching upon some sharp and riveting points concerning cable history, legislation and – of all things – the economic theory of Joseph Schumpeter.

Probably best known for the notion of "creative destruction," Schumpeter also propounded a view of economic change that turned on the three-fold process of invention, innovation and diffusion. In his Vanguard speech, Leghorn drew attention to the second point in that cycle (innovation).

"That’s the tough one," Leghorn said.

That’s also the point, after the initial idea’s first illumination but before production has scaled and prices drop, at which CableLabs traditionally has tried to act as a fulcrum.

It took CableLabs itself about four years to get going. Leghorn was there at the idea stage, as well as when it came time to implement it, having personally funded a study by the RAND Corp., and the consortium’s structuring and establishment in 1988 and incorporation in 1989.

At the genesis of the CableLabs idea was a little remarked-upon piece of legislation that Leghorn also called out: The National Cooperative Research Act of 1984.

"The cable industry has done more than any other industry to take advantage of that Act," Leghorn said.

It’s a little reminder the intersection of technology and law has not always proved to be a bloody crossroads for this industry, but that it has taken sharp-witted and insightful leaders – such as the MIT graduate, U.S. Air Force Reserve colonel, defense technology leader and cable operator Dick Leghorn – to lead rest of the team safely to the other side.

– Jonathan Tombes

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