CRASHES NEXT TO ROOM 31

Today, on tap for you is a repeat, my number one post from last year.  Please do continue to look under those motel mattresses, if you are a road warrior.

Crashes were not always relegated to software programs. Sometimes I experienced other kinds.  And they often happened close to the office.  Or next to scary places nearby.

In late spring 1994, Dad and I made a marketing call to a potential client without Bob. It was a major telecom company based in northern New Jersey, about an hour’s drive from Weehawken. The prospect was already running one of our competitor’s patent management systems, and wasn’t looking for a change. Rather, this was going to be a straight-up discussion about annuity payment services, right down Dad’s alley.

After some preparation, we plunked down inside my Dad’s lobotomized Mercedes Benz and traced our way to the company via the Garden State’s ribbon of expressways as guided by a crusty folded highway map.  As mentioned in my post “HIS NAME WAS BOB GERHARDT,” Dad had a method of increasing gasoline efficiency in automobile engines. It involved disabling multiple cylinders within the engine based on the simple premise that each cylinder is a source of fuel consumption and combustion. If you can shut them off, you will consume less fuel.

What could be simpler?

CRASHES NEXT TO ROOM 31

Crashes were not always relegated to software programs. Sometimes I experienced other kinds.  And they often happened close to the office.  Or next to scary places nearby.

In late spring 1994, Dad and I made a marketing call to a potential client without Bob. It was a major telecom company based in northern New Jersey, about an hour’s drive from Weehawken. The prospect was already running one of our competitor’s patent management systems, and wasn’t looking for a change. Rather, this was going to be a straight-up discussion about annuity payment services, right down Dad’s alley.

After some preparation, we plunked down inside my Dad’s lobotomized Mercedes Benz and traced our way to the company via the Garden State’s ribbon of expressways as guided by a crusty folded highway map.  As mentioned in my post “HIS NAME WAS BOB GERHARDT,” Dad had a method of increasing gasoline efficiency in automobile engines. It involved disabling multiple cylinders within the engine based on the simple premise that each cylinder is a source of fuel consumption and combustion. If you can shut them off, you will consume less fuel.

What could be simpler?

BASELINE

The memory I recounted in my post Assembly, Part 1, about my Dad putting together a pocket watch for me is not a particularly strong one. In fact, it’s like an alternative recall that really doesn’t come readily to mind. For one thing, there’s not that much action in it, and certainly nothing approaching anything like real drama. Just a quiet moment in a temporary home, years ago, in the distant past.

I didn’t ask for a gift that morning and I had no idea one was coming my way.  Like a faint shadow on old paint, it’s there to remind you if your eye happens to fall on it while you’re thinking about or doing something else.

For me, I have similar experiences sometimes while listening to music during long drives in my car. I hear the music, but I am focused on the road and other traffic. One of those melodies can suddenly appear front and center in my consciousness days later, and I am left with some chord structure or arrangement in endless mental repetition. The bad ones we call earworms, annoying feedback loops of muzak that would be better eaten by birds.

ASSEMBLY, PART 2

As I wrote last week, my Dad, like some of his contemporaries, resisted the advent of the PC age. It’s kind of a conundrum since he created a new industry on the back of new technology and thoroughly disrupted the patent renewal business thirty years hence. Once achieving ascendancy, however, he complacently resigned his role as innovator when he moved his booming company to New Jersey. But he still sought control over everything.

Sure enough, others, like Jerry Van Winter and Bob Gerhardt, arose to begin the next cycle of cannibalization in this niche marketplace. During the 1970s, the competitive pressures those gentlemen brought to bear on the market began to take its toll on Olcott International. This threatened Dad’s ability to maintain control.

When Bob Gerhardt became a free agent in the mid-1980s, Dad felt compelled to co-opt him. In “HIS NAME WAS BOB GERHARDT,” I wrote about how I lugged Bob’s Compaq laptop into the office one day in 1985.

KANGAROO COURT

Bernard Olcott (my Dad).  Bob Gerhardt.  John Dennemeyer.  Gerald Van Winter.  Ray Chinnery.  These are the founding fathers of the global Patent Annuity industry in the 1960s and 1970s.  And beyond!

Most everyone credits my Dad with being the first to figure out how patent maintenance fees could be tracked and organized by a computer-managed and calendaring program.

All were known for their strong personalities.  Some say you need to be somewhat difficult and egotistical to overcome the inertia of the status quo and take the business world by storm with a new idea.  Certainly this was true for Steve Jobs but maybe not so much for Bill Gates.  Perhaps personality isn’t everything.

Not to say that Bill lacked a strong character, just that he didn’t have the same reputation for going off the rails.  Maybe his penchant for the pleasantries of networking and interpersonal skills of collaboration was truly the road ahead.  I dunno.  I just report.  You decide.

Putting some of these guys together certainly was a recipe for making fireworks.  Apparently, my Dad and Ray Chinnery didn’t mix so well.  If I ever saw them together, it was during a two week period in London over the summer of 1969.  And that was that.  Never again.

HIS NAME WAS BOB GERHARDT

Sometime in late 1984, I drove out with my Dad to Newark Airport in his clunky 10 year old Mercedes Benz, the engine duly defanged so as to economize on the high cost of gas.  Dad wasn’t a great driver.  Driving with him was like taking a safari through cannibal-infested badlands.  His signature move was to pull out into highway traffic much too slowly to the taste of neighboring motorists, due either to the underpowered engine or his “hell-can-care” attitude — pick one.   Invariably, this would provoke generous amounts of honking and obscene gestures.  Massive flocks of New Jersey state birds (“boids”) arose quickly all around us, “wings” fluttering, taking flight quickly into the air.

In other words, New Jersey drivers set their alarms to 3AM so they can wake up and hate that kind of driving.  Across the river in New York, you would likely hear howls of “yer driving be stank, yo!”

Dad loved gratuitous comments about his driving.  NOT.  He certainly wasn’t shy about responding in turn.  Loudly.  Often at those moments, I wished I could disappear.  Or get beamed up.

But this trip to James Riddle Hoffa Memorial Airfield (a/k/a Newark Airport) was not a run-of-the-mill journey.  We were on our way to meet and pick up one Robert B. Gerhardt, a founding father of Master Data Center (“MDC”)¹, a leading competitor to Olcott International.  Bob was a veritable Giant in the Patent Annuity business space.  He was flying in from Detroit to discuss joining up with us.  A strategic spear to be thrust deep into the sides of our competitors, not just MDC, but also CPA and CPI.

MAYBE THERE WAS HOPE!

As relayed in my previous post, “TWO RABBITS, ONE DEAD,” by the early to mid-1980s, the Patent Annuity payment business had evolved to the point where corporate patent owners had lost interest in a basic renewal service. (See my post, “THE BIGGER IDEA (AND ME AS WINGBOY)” for a basic explanation.) What they did clamor for, however, was software to manage their patent files and operations.

These patent departments were awash in paper! They desperately needed to computerize their operations.  By converting paper to electronic files, they could junk their antiquated manual reminder systems. In other words, it was time for them to turn their operations into a modern computer-managed process.

A cheaper and more efficient renewal payment service just didn’t set any bridges on fire anymore.  At least, not like it had in the 1960s. Disruption had moved on.

Dad was extremely resistant to extend the Olcott International brand to a marketable piece of software.  That would have entailed restructuring his business to meet the emerging disruption (please review Rebecca Henderson and Clay Christensen, disruptive innovation experts at the  Harvard Business School).  Dad now confronted the same disruption challenge he had once imposed.  To respond or not; to react incrementally or radically?

disruptive-innovation

At the time, I was of limited help in addressing this existential threat as I was completely computer illiterate.  We did have some kind of mini-computer in the basement that kept our clients’ patent data on big removable disk drives.  (We had off-site storage facilities to prevent loss from fire, Bigfoot, or nuclear attack).