PATENTS, MANAGEMENT, AND PROJECTS

(Not necessarily in that order.)

One day in 1993, my Dad came downstairs to the “computer department” at Olcott International somewhat agitated. He was upset that a function called “Prior Art” was not included in the patent management software. There were plenty of blank looks all around. “Prior Art? What’s that?” and “Why didn’t we know about this before?” were suddenly questions that hung in the air like old party balloons.

“You dumb bastards!” Dad shouted at the programmers. “You don’t know anything about patents!” At least not like him; after all, he was a high priest, a “made” patent attorney.

Bob Gerhardt took a shot at resolving the problem. “Bern,” he grunted as he worked that wad of gum in his mouth, “We can add Prior Art information in the header text field.” Reasonable, that.

Dad shot back, “Is it labelled ‘Prior Art’?” Although his knowledge of software was surprisingly spotty, he knew full well the answer to that question.

Bob grunted again, softer this time, “no.” He was beaten, again.

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CUTTING EDGE AND TOTALLY COOL

Astute readers may recall my post, “A MAN OF LETTERS,” from August 2015. One of the points of the story was to explain my Dad’s preferred method of marketing Olcott International in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It wasn’t by way of a sophisticated advertising mix. After all, this wasn’t a service you could promote via highway billboards (not that that qualifies, but never mind).

The market for patent renewal servicing worldwide in countries from Nicaragua to North Korea (yes, there are a handful of foreign companies that register patents in North Korea!) was and still is not so big. It mainly consists of a tiny cadre of people working in large corporate legal (or more specifically, patent) departments. And the person calling the shots in such rarefied zones is none other than a pooh-bah called a “Chief Patent Counsel.”

That preferred marketing methodology referred to above was – wait for it – by direct snail US mail to every pooh-bah you could shake a stick at. He or she received a personally addressed letter through the miracle of mail merges via MS Word. Windows version, natch!

MA CHIGNY SITUATIONS

Battered and shattered, I fell to the canvas floor of my psychic boxing ring.  I had just been fired by my boss for sending a fax on the wrong stationery.  But this wasn’t just any boss.  This one was also my Father!  A total knock out!

The bow-tied referee, with either a halo over his head, or horns — I couldn’t tell which through the fog of broken dreams — stood over me counting to 15.  I couldn’t really hear him through the swirl of emotions pulsating through my head, body, or tendrils.  How exactly was I going to get a new job?  I had already made the supreme effort, by previously leaving this place of temporary employment.  Small businesses are the job creators of America, so the politicians always say.  Gee, I wish they could have created one for me.

Dazed, I made my way back home in the strangeness of an early afternoon.  What do you do when you get home after being fired for faxing a document with the wrong return address?  As a fan of film noir, I knew immediately.  I pulled out the Scotch bottle and poured a finger into a tumbler.  I sat on the couch and took a sip.  It tasted horrible.  I hate Scotch; I only keep this shit around for guests who like to drink it.

Film Noir au Pissoir

Film Noir au Pissoir.  Photograph by Robert Frank.

I sat there, immobile, until my wife got home.  It must have been a surprise for her to find me on the couch, drinking.  “Uh oh,” she said when she walked in, dropping her arms, “what’s wrong?”  She doesn’t miss a trick.

“I had a really bad day at work.”  I have always been fond of understatement.

BUCKED OFF!

‘Twas not all gloom and doom at Olcott International.

Upon my return to the office that spring of 1992, I started hearing odd noises upstairs and soon met Bobby Edwards, the Jewish cowboy. This wisecracker could make Dad laugh endlessly. Soon Dad asked me to get involved with his (minor) investments in the Kansas oil patch.  “PANOLPY OF SWAGGER” recounts these welcome diversions.  I remain grateful to the Jewish cowboy to this day.

Speaking of foreign countries, Japan has always been an important client base for Olcott International. I’ve written a number of posts about how my Dad conquered the land of the rising sun in the 1970s, a country where American culture was imported wholesale, albeit with many local twists.

BACK IN THE SADDLE

It was good to be back at Olcott International despite certain ominous dark storm clouds.  And the odd soul grinder.

For one thing, Bob Gerhardt continued to be browbeaten and didn’t seem to like it any more than when I had left him to his fate back in 1986.  But still here he was, plodding along in Weehawken.

Bob continued to lead up the development of patent management software.  But oddly, there seemed to be more than one software project in motion in what ostensibly was not exactly a Fortune 1000 company.

Bob and my Dad had teamed up together in the late 1980s to create OIPMS, a DOS based application designed to intelligently manage the complete life cycle of patents.  These were classic black-screen applications with blinking white cursors.  They weren’t pretty but the design was so good that one of my readers here – a patent attorney no less – still uses his copy to manage his portfolio.  As this is being written in 2017, that’s saying something!

GREEN EGGS AND HAM

In April 1992, I had one foot in two worlds.

One foot was planted in the familiar lush flagship Polo Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue, a marvel of seductive, dazzling, stylish, and pricey eye-candy.  The other was a run-down office precariously hugging a cliff on the anus-side¹ of the Lincoln Tunnel, overlooking the double helix resounding with the roar of vehicular traffic.  I dubbed that sound in my post “THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS,” as the ‘soul grinder.’

The first was glamorous, but offered me little future career growth.  The second was pretty much its antithesis on both counts (except, sometimes, for the travel).

To aspire to my greatest future potential, I had to risk the crushing of my essence.

ALL MY ROADS LEAD TO ROME

Ahhh! April flowers. The trees are budding. Boids are choiping psychotically.

Springtime, it’s often said, brings together hopes and promises. Well, why not? April’s the month of my birthday. Sometimes, when the weather is right, the trees bud and bloom in the latter part of the month, right around when I appeared at Mount Sinai Hospital, 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue some 50 (or so) years ago.

Spring in 1992 was an exceptionally golden era for me, especially at Polo Ralph Lauren, a company I never expected to end up in after leaving the family business and graduating from Business School. It was survival by wit, guile, charm, and, to speak plainly, a shitload of style. Ralph made sure of that!  And it was often a lot of effortless fun as well!

In addition to my triumph at Polo, several other things were going very well in my life in early 1992.