Everyone has a shining moment. My Dad’s bears repeating. He really slayed it!
So Dad got the idea for a fantastic business related to patent filings and infringements, kind of an amalgam between legal and IT but not a legal practice, strictly speaking. As I am able to remember it, he had become friendly with Ed Greer, who was head patent counsel for the Union Carbide Corporation. Union Carbide was one of the biggest chemical corporations of the day and was headquartered in their own magnificent skyscraper two blocks up Park Avenue from the Pan Am Building.
It was a probably a simple matter for Dad to put it together that large corporate patent owners could benefit from some form of computer calendaring.
Keep in mind that a large company like Union Carbide owned a large portfolio of patents. They would initially file patent applications in the home country, USA for Union Carbide. And as they were a large multinational corporation selling their wares everywhere, once the patent applications were accepted here at home, they would then engage in an international filing program elsewhere, typically the largest 15 countries in Western Europe and then Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and maybe Brazil and South Africa to boot.
Union Carbide’s portfolio of patents numbered in the thousands. All countries, except the USA oddly enough, required a fee to be paid on a particular date each year in the local currency (the USA has an oddball schedule where a renewal was paid only 3 times in a 17 year period). Keeping track of this was a perfect job for the nascent computer technology of the time. And Dad jumped into this world of information technology with both feet.
Back in the early 1960s, computers were large refrigerator sized devices with glass doors, spinning reels of tape, and blinking lights. Down past Tadd’s Steak House and the Horn & Hardart Automat on 42nd Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues, and just before the tawdry Peep Shows and XXX Super 8 movie stores, was the PSI Computer Center. This was the leading franchise of computer time for rent in New York City. For a kid like me, walking into such a center, was like walking into a Star Trek stage. I would sit at the computer console and compose words on computer punch cards.
1960s Computer Technology
For his part, Dad would come in with a box full of key punch cards, one set for Union Carbide’s patent data and the other for the program he had written to sort the data into payment schedules organized by calendar quarter and country. The data was sorted and concatenated into a string of characters like CalendarQuarter/Country/PatentNumber/DueDate/Fee/etc. Concerning the country code, he set a standard for a 6 character code that was easy to recognize without resorting to a look up table. I remember codes like GRTBRT, SOAFRI, and GERWST; he hated the idea of a 2 character code that later became the ISO standard.
He would print out a quarterly schedule of Union Carbide’s patent renewals per country and then set about to win approval from each country’s patent office to accept these printouts as sent directly from him in New York, each print-out duly indicating the correct payment in pounds, francs, marks, yen, or whatever.
It was wildly successful. Before such a payment program, the Union Carbides of the world would pay, say, their local Patent Agent in London £200 for the official government fee covering the 15th anniversary (or annuity) for a particular patent and then another £200 as their agency fee, for a total of £400. Using his payment program, Dad proposed covering the 1) £200 for the official fee as normally and then a 2) 10% discount on the agency fee, for a total of £380. Now £20 may not strike the dear reader as very much of a saving but imagine if you had a two thousand such payments per year. That would amount to a demonstrable cost reduction of £40,000, which in the early 1960s was equal to $100,000! That was big money in any company’s annual patent renewal budget at the time. And it also relieved the patent department’s staff of a boring maintenance task, which typically preferred to devote it’s time to filing new patents and suing infringers (highly profitable).
New clients like E.I. DuPont de Nemours, the US Atomic Energy Commission, Montecatini Edison, Dunlap Tire, and Massey Ferguson quickly signed up. Dad had hit the big time for the summer of love in 1967.
Fortunately for Dad, he was in between wives 3 and 4 during this period. I remember a slew of ladies joining us for sailing excursions at the Southampton Yacht Club – Jeannie Buckley, Jeannie Berhardt, Kay Kay, among many others. Here I am with one such lass, her name I can’t remember. Dad had nicknames for each lady, “Jeannie with the sour face,” “Jeannie with the million bucks,” etc. Dad probably told me that this one’s name probably had something to do with huge bazongas as I look like I am about to crack up.
One thing about the ladies that became something of a problem for me during this period. I used to dread accompanying him into offices because invariably some (female and hot) secretary would spot me and start the damnable squealing. “Oh, he’s so cute! Look everybody at this little boy!” Oh God, how I wish I could have disappeared. Then came the bending down in high heels, short skirt, coiffed hair-do, her big eyes peering into mine, and crooning “What’s your name?! You’re so cute I could eat you!” That was a just too much attention for a 6 year old boy, who with his Dad, was solidly part of the boy’s team. Dad would simply laugh and curiously ignore me while chatting up the hot secretary. On reflection, I think I was being used as some kind of wingman (or wingboy). No particular girlfriends resulted from this catch-and-release on his part, but I had the distinct impression that I was the chum and lure in his pick-up pond.
One day I noticed that as far as lobby restaurants were concerned, we always ate in the Zum Zum or the Chock Full ‘o Nuts for lunch but never in Charlie Brown’s. I asked Dad why and he explained that, well, Charlie Brown’s was where he went after work when he was “catting around.”
OK, let me connect the dots on this. Highly successful bachelor. Office upstairs. Apartment around the corner. New York City (Midtown). 1967. Summer of Love. The Pill. Bar above Grand Central Station.
FISH. BARREL. AIM. SHOOT.
He was slaying it in the boardroom and in the bedroom! The late 1960s were the bomb for Dad and he ruled!
The author in the closer’s chair, as photographed by Bernard Olcott
Copyright © 2015 by James B. Olcott