Today, I present you with another guest post from my friend Ned McDonnell who sends this missive to me from his current residence in Tunis, Tunisia. Obviously, I am somewhat embarrassed by his praise of my writing. I mean, I am just a schnook on the internet with a blog.
But I did try to weave a number of connections into my stories of times past so that I was not just writing about my own family — hopefully, at times, I was leaning into yours as well.
I will post a brief update tomorrow about my upcoming post AFTERMATH.
People often ask me why I read the essays in James Olcott’s cultural blog, The Bernard Olcott Story, almost ‘talmudically’; examining each word, savoring each thought as if it were handed down to me from on high. Is it because I have known James – for better or for worse – for more than forty years? Yes, I have known him since 1975. But that is not it.
Beyond being classmates, is my avid reading due to James’s wit rivaling that of his distant cousin, James Thurber? Yes, I like to laugh. But that is not it, either. Perhaps, it is James’s nuanced analyses of human pitfalls and downfalls that cause me to stop and think about contemporary life’s latest version of the human condition. My own meditations are noteworthy in this regard that does not quite explain my continuing interest.
Above: Lincoln’s Inn as seen from Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London.
Up for today is my Harvard Business School (“the charm school on the Charles”) case study about the industry my Dad created — international patent renewals!
As the 1960s progressed, Dad’s new business quickly subsumed his “normal” patent practice. He did keep working for some select inventors who intrigued him but spent most of his time promoting his new renewal business as a modern, computerized clerical operation.
Corporate patent owners were delighted and sought him out. On the other hand, foreign patent law firms worldwide were scandalized! The renewal work for them was heretofore easy money; it was a simple annual reminder operation that brought in huge fees for little work. They accused Dad of skimming the cream off their businesses. Many fought back, in some cases by petitioning their local patent offices NOT to accept such payment schedules sent in from foreign offices in New York. However, some savvy patent law offices quietly became clients, preferring to take advantage of the lower fees and passing them along to their clients to curry favor.
Nine months after the botched installations at Mark Chapman’s Trade Mark Office and Molecules R Us, Inc., it was a chilly late February morning in 1995. I was sitting at my desk on the second floor back at the Weehawken office. During this period, I was responsible for marketing with no, as in zero, authority to actually get much done.
Suddenly, I had developed a new-found interest in curing our software defects large and small.
Behind me, Steve was tapping away on his keyboard, probably writing code for the Olcott Intellectual Property Management Software (“OIPMS”). Peggy was around the corner, attending to some marketing follow-up. Yoshi was downstairs in the Computer Center, which was a large room featuring several PCs, a mini-computer, various computer parts like mother boards, dead mice, shells, and, bizarrely, in one corner, a portion of Palisades’ basalt protruding through the cement slab floor.
With no warning, Dad rolled into the room and announced, loudly, “Steven!” This was his way of saying that he wanted to meet and review OIMPS. Occasionally, this included major design changes. Which presented, at times, some very tough engineering challenges.
These review sessions were typically dreadful and sorry affairs. Frequently, they started by Dad walking in and offering “on-the-spot guidance” only to end by shouting insults to the computer department staff for errors mostly (but not always) provoked by him.
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.
One winter’s night in the late 1960s my Dad, Bernard Olcott, walked home from his office in the Pan Am Building. He stopped at the Gristede’s on the North East corner of Park Avenue South and 41st Street (long since gone). It was a hard place to pass up as the odor of rotisserie chickens graced the corner, even in the cold. Dad hunted down a cooked bird, dripping wet in roasted fat. He hauled his kill back to the Peter Cooper Hotel on 38th and Lexington, wolfed it down, and then passed out in his richly appointed studio.
That night he had a dream. He saw himself reading through a 6 page letter from one of his clients. The first page was a dry cover letter instructing him to add 150 new patents to his payment system. There were 5 other pages attached, with a dizzying array of patent data. The last page was different than the rest; it was a one line item, a patent with some kind of inconsistency. Dad detached the last page from the others and laid it on the mountainous pile on his desk. The others he gave to his secretary so she could complete data entry sheets to be used by keypunchers at the PSI Computing Center. In this way, all items were to be entered into the Bernard Olcott & Associates patent renewal payment system – the forerunner of today’s Olcott International.
That is, all items, except for the one that got away on the last page.
This week, another repeat. This is the second most popular post on my site (after “WHAT’S IN A BORDER“) and I have to say it’s really gratifying.
Because this one is all about my Dad in his prime, at the top of his game. When he could do no wrong. It’s me in kvell-mode. Well, all right, three failed marriages by this time already. Nobody’s perfect, even critics.
But in a certain sense, he was really only married once.
I’ll have a new, fresh story from this time period shortly. And I’ll be back to those wretched investments in the mid-1990s before too long.
This week we go into why my Dad is famous, at least in the patent profession. The next three posts are about his greatest number one hit in the charts. And it’s big!
As you know by now, dear reader, Dad was married five times to five different women. But in a certain way, Dad was really only married once. It was not to a lady wearing a dress and lipstick (though there were more than a few of those around) but to a business soon to be called “Olcott International & Co.” It was his life, and his masterpiece, just as the Mona Lisa was to Leonardo da Vinci. (He greatly admired Leonardo and thought of himself easily as da Vinci’s equal). He could share this one true wife with no one and he guarded her with a jealous Latin-blooded fury. (As I and others would haplessly come to learn.)
When I review my site statistics, I notice which posts are most popular, and where most of the viewers come from. “LOOKIN’ FOR THE EIFFEL TOWER” is my third most popular post ever and it receives most views from France! Aside from some of my fans out there, I think most folks who stumbled across my post were probably Americans (and a few dizzy South Africans) looking for a famous monument in the City of Lights.
So while I am busy writing “PANOPLY OF SWAGGER, PART 2,” I repost for your enjoyment my number one hit from France. I recommend that you read this post while listening to my favorite station over there, TSFJazz (occasionally playing live, raging jazz from nightclubs all over Pair-ee!)
The events in this story are from July 1969, right after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon!
Dad and I boarded our Air France flight to Orly Airport and, as customary, I grabbed the window seat. I was only 11 but still I understood that Dad was looking after his business affairs while we were in Europe. We had visited one of his best English clients – Massey-Ferguson – and he had pushed his joint venture discussions forward with the senior partners from Marks & Clerk while in London. He had scouted out possible locations for the proposed operation in the Channel Islands. His work done, and the Apollo 11 astronauts back home safely, it was time to leave the Anglo-Saxon world behind and see something completely different.
France was an important country to my Dad’s business from an operational point of view. While he did not have any customers there, all of his clients (be they American, British, Italian, or Japanese) did have large portfolios of French patents on which renewal fees had to be paid annually in French Francs. Therefore when he went to the French Patent Office on the rue de Leningrad (later to be renamed rue de St. Petersbourg) earlier that decade to win acceptance for his bulk payment process, it was a real coup when they readily agreed to accept his bulk payment process. In fact, the top 3 countries in Europe for patent registrations – UK, West Germany, and France – all accepted his instructions direct from New York. Even though Dad only studied a little French in high school, he sure loved him some France as his operation there was a huge money maker.