It all started when 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing) entered the field of hearing instruments in the “mid 1980’s”. 3M acquired a small Swedish start-up hearing instrument company by the name of Diaphon Development AB. Diaphon had filed one or more patent applications relating to hearing instruments that were digitally programmable. In the second half of the 1980’s 3M Hearing Healthcare took out many more patents on programmable hearing instrument technology and they also acquired the rights to several patents from the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, Missouri (CID). The CID patents were also directed towards digital hearing instruments.
Until 1988, all hearing instruments were based on pure analogue technology and adjustments on hearing instruments were accomplished using ‘trimmers’, i.e. tiny potentiometers that were used for adjusting the frequency response, gain and maximum output of the instruments.
In 1988 and 1989 the first real programmable hearing instruments were made available to the market. Instead of trimmers, the programmable hearing instruments had a memory where a fitting system or computer could store the parameters that controlled the hearing instrument’s performance parameters. 3M was the third company to launch a programmable hearing instrument, called the Memory Mate, but 3M had difficulties and its hearing instrument division was never profitable.
In 1996, the Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Patent Partnership (HIMPP) was formed by a group of leading hearing instrument manufacturers, and acquired 3M’s patents. The Board of HIMPP immediately agreed that the patent portfolio should be made available to any manufacturer in the hearing instrument field on fair and equal terms. Since then, all major hearing instrument manufacturers have become partners/shareholders in HIMPP and most of the smaller manufacturers have become licensees.