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.
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.)
Last week, I discussed cataclysmic instances of a falling sky. Once every six billion years or so, you don’t want to be here (on Earth).
In the interest of full disclosure, there are other instances of falling sky which are not quite so universal, but just as terminal on a local basis. Consider a neighborhood volcano that explodes. Forget about ancient times like Mt. Vesuvius wiping out Pompeii in 79. That’s year 79, not 1979. How about the city of Plymouth, Montserrat in the West Indies (I used to renew trademark registrations here!)? Founded in the 18th century, it served as the capital of this British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean for over 200 years. Until it was wiped out by the Soufriere Hills volcano in 1997. Today Plymouth is a ghost town, population zero.
My favorite “sky is falling” incident is the one that occurred in Peekskill, New York on October 9, 1992. Earlier that week, a resident of that fair city, 18 year old Michelle Knapp scraped together $300 to buy her first car, a 12 year old used red Chevrolet Malibu. She must have been excited to drive her prize back home and park it proudly in her driveway.
Introducing Chevrolet’s 1980 Malibu.
Photo above by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research – Creating Defensible Space, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=803832
To all creatures great and small, anything, and everything, the solution to all of mankind’s issues, questions, traumas, and broken sump pumps was simply “August the 18th (1986).” Up to that date, work had been a long, worrisome slog at Olcott International with CEO Bernard Olcott.
Not only CEO, but also inventor of an entire industry!
Not only CEO, but my Dad who had brought me to the world’s most interesting places!
Not only CEO, but a real employer and engine of economic growth. A killer business! The embodiment of the great promise of small family owned enterprises in the USA!!
Yet an unparalleled brilliance without core beliefs — impossible to follow without getting whipsawed. Even in his personal life. Especially there! A lone eagle who had displayed lots of evidence that he was unwilling to work with anybody.
Someone increasingly distracted by side ventures to the detriment of that main engine of economic growth. A quick and impatient mind more content to re-shuffle the deck than to manage, guide, dispense real wisdom, and evolve.
A guy who even returned condoms to the Shop Rite Pharmacy because they were too small or “made for midgets.”
In the run up to August 18th, 1986, the date of record for me, a typical training session that summer with my replacement Paul Campo went down something like this:
“OK, Paul, this is the computer inventory of all trademarks owned by The Wellcome Foundation.” I put my hand down softly on a large green binder by my side. Inside were hundreds of pages of green tractor-feed paper held together with white plastic paper ties.
Getting very little on the way of a reaction, I flipped through the pages making a ruffling noise. “You see, the marks are organized by country.”
Again, no reaction.
Continuing to flip through the sheets, I stopped at one page. “Here, this page is for Sudan.”
Paul looked lively all of a sudden. “Dan who?” he asked. “And I don’t know anyone named Sue,” he added. A real comedian.
Monday, August 18th, year of Our Lord 1986. That was to be my first day at Columbia Business School’s two week orientation for the incoming class of 1988. As mentioned last week in “MURPHY AND HIS LAW,” it was to feature a boot camp for Mathematics and gettin’ jiggy with the Hewlett Packard 12c financial calculator. Although that was the date of reference for me throughout the second quarter of the year – after I was notified of my acceptance in April – I suppose from my point of view the real date of reference for me was Friday, August 15th. That was to be my last date at Olcott International.
I told Dad over lunch of my acceptance at Columbia. He took the news quietly. Why shouldn’t he? After all, he had asked me to leave the company that past December. We both agreed that it was important to find a replacement for me to insure a smooth transition.
For this task, Dad avoided placing a Help Wanted ad in the Hudson Dispatch or Bergen Record newspapers, his usual sources for potential office talent. This time, he went to the Job Placement office of the US Trademark Association and found someone who, like Bob Gerhardt, had his favorite qualification – an actual Juris Doctor degree! (Something I never had nor lusted after).