Patents are taking a pounding on the editorial pages of the country’s great newspapers.
And not just there. In the Supreme Court and Congress, this popular political whipping boy is being flogged without mercy. A hard-to-parse slice of corporate America seems to be pitching in, too. They’re all doing their part to safeguard civilization from the scourge of patents.
Face it. Patents are on the ropes. To hear some critics tell it, we ought to outfit the patent system with concrete boots and push it straight off the 14th Street Bridge into the icy Potomac. You can hear these wet-blanket detractors mumbling under their breath: “Patents? Hah! Stupid idea. Jefferson must have been stone drunk on corn mash hooch when he concocted that one. Patents? Baloney.”
What’s more, this round-robin choreographed public flogging promises to succeed.
And one morning soon, don’t be surprised if big-brain innovators and well-healed investors all over America find themselves peering into their bathroom mirrors while shaving or blow drying and subconsciously blurting out to their significant others still half asleep in bed—“Jamie, do you remember the quaint old patent office that I was telling you about? You know, the one with the eighteen bazillion employees that filled that big office campus in Alexandria. To the rafters. Yeah, the one that sported the best work-out facility in the free world? Y’know, I haven’t heard anything about the patent office lately. I think it went out of business. A shame, really. What do you suppose happened?”
“Huh? Could you stop blathering. I’m trying to sleep.”
And, count on this–on the same morning, at the arrivals curbs at National and Dulles and BWI, lawyers in their elegant suits and pointy shoes (with the punch-hole patterns on the toes) will be getting into black, gas-guzzling, eco-hostile car-service SUVs and leaning over the front seat backs to instruct their drivers: “Take me to the patent office.” And hearing back from the front seat—“The what office?”
Then patent bashers will dance in the streets, elated by this perfect end game. Simple. No patent office, no patents. An elegant and final solution.
Untutored observers will be non-plussed; for them, the demise of the patent office will be a head-scratching puzzle. They will see the event for what it is, a great tragedy for the American economy and technology development.
But patent cognoscenti will hardly be surprised, for they will have seen the one-column-inch ad tucked at the bottom of page 27 of the big city paper three days earlier (underneath the “Dog itches self to death” ad for Flora’s flea powder)—“Patent office closes for lack of interest. Patent shoes being sold as surplus. Call Phil’s Auction House. 571-272-8888. Leave a message.”
My advice? Don’t bother.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Back in the day, you were lucky to find a pitcher of stale tap water (no ice) on the conference room table and a couple of semi-clean drinking glasses (the ones with the flutes on the side) to hand to the chief engineer of RCA or the factory foreman of United Shoe Machinery. If the meeting was important, you had the lunch counter at the Woolworth 5 and 10-cent store across the street send over some coffee and hot water for tea. Eight hours in a stuffy conference room, the senior partner smoking a cigar, and a lot of progress on that summary judgment brief. Lunch? Two hours at the city club, two Martinis, and back to work. That was the high life.
Times have changed. For the better.
Somewhere between 1980 and 1990, firm cultures took a turn to the genteel side. Face it. When it came to good taste and the warm-fuzzy, the old-time machismo had gotten in the way for decades. It was time for a revolution. So the passive aggressive approach to entertaining outsiders and insiders was dumped.
The shift came on subtly. It had to. Even small changes meant upheaval. The traditionalists were shocked when canned drinks, napkins, plates, and a tasteful small plate of cookies appeared quietly on the credenza (ginger snaps). Soon the old guard Woolworth lunch counter lost out to the upstart Au Bon Pain.
Funny, the old goats stopped grumbling and started eating. With a vengeance. Gluttony ruled.
Muffins appeared, then bigger cookies. Humongous cookies the size of a plate. Soon the fare included small lunches to lay on over the mid-morning snacks. Croissants filled with chicken salad glop (curried). Pita pockets with humus. Focaccia. Pizza. Then serious entrées. Desserts. Hor d’oevres. Feasts fit for kings.
Heavy, calorie-laden, fatty, high-energy food was everywhere. There was so much energy ingested that phlegmatic folks were bouncing down the halls and off the walls. Every so often a salad or piece of fruit would turn up somewhere. By mistake. “Please, let’s not let that happen again.”
The food spilled out of the conference rooms into the lunch rooms, the reception areas, the hallways, the individual offices. Every space, every occasion, every person was caught in the frenzy.
Space planners were called in. No self-respecting law firm could occupy an overpriced space that didn’t have a kitchen, a dining room, serving accoutrements in the conference rooms, discrete places to dump your trash that looked a lot like file drawers. Hospitality staff was hired. The big puzzle about a meeting was not who would be there or the topic at hand. No, it was: “What’s on the menu? And which hash house is catering?” Internal rump sessions and meetings with clients all were scheduled around the food service. The fare was chosen meticulously. Grazing was the sport of the day.
Excess food was given away. Thrown away. Spirited back to one’s office or carrel. Sneaked into the fridge as if it were your own. Left there to go stale. And smell.
Not content with the public offerings, people brought their own food to the office. Lunch rooms were fitted out with refrigerators, microwave ovens, toasters.
Zagat squeezed a new section into their restaurant listings: Great American Law Firms. And the American Lawyer pushed the 50 highest profit firms to the back page in favor of glamorous snapshots of the best food served in a law firm, properly primped by the best food makeup artists on Madison Avenue.
But I knew for sure that the focus on culinary delights had gone haywire when firms changed their marketing styles to suit:
“Meathead, Carrotfinger, and Lard. Corporate Law. And the Best Pulled Pork East of Beaumont.”
What’s next? Hot cloths at the reception desk? Turkish towels in the hot tub room? And Tai Chi lessons at 9 AM in the solarium?
Just my two cents.