Patent News | "Patent lawyer recalls glory days at Kodak"

By :  Sandy Wells
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Category : Patent News

CHARLESTON, W.Va. --A patent lawyer with Eastman Kodak for 38 years, Harold "Hal" Cole wrote more than 500 patents for the company in the glory era before digital cameras. The work took him all over the world.

But there's a lot more to him than his career. He was a distance runner, including three stints in the Boston Marathon. A former golf nut, he has three holes-in-one to his credit. Before he joined the Mormon Church, he was a wine connoisseur known for his extensive wine list.

At 74, retired since 2003 and living in Sissonville, he devotes most of his time to church-related duties, including outreach and mission work. As the church public relations  director, he expects to field plenty of inquiries during Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

He's soft-spoken and genial, a Cincinnati native who grew up poor and saw academic excellence as a way up the ladder. It worked.

"I was born in Cincinnati. My father was a barber. We were very poor. It was the middle of the Depression. My father was an alcoholic. I had a rough home life.

"Later on, Dad kicked his habit and Mom and Dad became very devoted to each other. He died a year and a half after she did of a broken heart.

"I determined at an early age that I had to have good grades if I was going to get out of that environment. In the eighth grade, I won a prize for best grades for the previous eight years, the top of the class.

"I had a paper route. In the summer, I caddied on the golf course. Because you were a caddy, you could play once a week. That's where my love for golf came in. I thought, one of these days, I'm going to join one of these fancy clubs. And I did. I joined two of them. I've had three holes-in-one.

"Everybody was telling me I was good in math and science and should be an engineer. I liked chemistry, so I thought I'd be a chemical engineer. I ended up with a one-year scholarship at the University of Cincinnati. It's a co-op school where you alternate working with school.

"I had a very good job and made enough to pay for my school. So I had the first year free then started the co-op five-year course. I paid for all my schooling.

"After one year in Cincinnati, I knew engineering wasn't for me. I discovered that you could become a patent attorney. You had to have a technical degree and a legal degree. So I finished engineering, worked a year and a half on co-op job and applied in Washington to be a patent examiner.

"I was in Washington from 1962 to 1965, during the period when Kennedy was president and assassinated. I was working in the patent office when we heard about the assassination. We all huddled around the radio. I watched the funeral and all that.

"I went to law school at Georgetown University at night and worked during the day and got my law degree in three and a half years.

"The day after I graduated from Georgetown, I went to Richmond and got sworn in as a lawyer. Two days later, I was in Rochester, N.Y., as a full-time lawyer for Eastman Kodak.

"My first big decision in life was where to work. I was in high demand as a patent attorney and could go about anywhere in country. I chose Rochester and stayed 38 years.

"Polaroid had a monopoly in instant photography and we knew they were coming out with a new system because I had read their patents. I came up with a patent of my own.

"When patents are printed, they put an assignment on the first page of the patent saying which company has rights to the patent. The patent office forgot to put the assignment on my patent. An analyst found out about the patent and thought Kodak had conspired to keep the patent secret.

"A research report mentioned a patent by Harold Cole as evidence that Kodak was going to compete with Polaroid. Polaroid shares dropped by millions of dollars.

"Dr. Edwin Land [Polaroid inventor] was very annoyed about this. It was written up in The Wall Street Journal about this Kodak employee, me, and this patent. Polaroid finally ended up ignoring it. We got our patent, but it didn't impact theirs. The analyst just jumped to a conclusion based on the flimsiest of data.

"I wrote over 500 patents for Kodak. Inventors would tell me their inventions and would write them up. There used to be machines at Walmart and Rite Aid where you could take a picture and put it on a plate and make a print, thermal heat processing. I did several hundred patents in that field. Things were going great when I retired in 2003.

"When I started, Kodak had so much money they didn't know what to do. They had just introduced the Instamatic film system. Cash was piling up fast. The Kodak antitrust lawyers worried about the monopoly Kodak had over the market. In 1976, their market share of photographic film sales in the U.S. was 90 percent.

"It pains me now to see Kodak in bankruptcy. In 1982, they had 120,000 employees compared to 17,000 today.

"Digital photography killed them. The light-sensitive film we used to have was very high-tech. Not many people could do it. When the market shifted to digital, anybody could make the cameras. We had some of the first patents, but we couldn't get a monopoly on them.

"We filed a lot of patents in Europe and Japan, so I had a successful international career. Once in Europe, I would take vacation time to go to some other country. I went all over the Orient.

"In 1992, coming back from Japan, I met my daughter in Hawaii. The next morning, Hurricane Iniki struck and knocked out power. Steven Spielberg and his crew provided a portable generator for our hotel. They had just finished filming 'Jurassic Park.' We finally got a plane to Honolulu after three days. I was interviewed there on the CBS Nightly News.

"In the late 70s, I started running marathons. I started running to lose weight. The guys at the office would say a race was coming up and you could get a T-shirt. So I started running races. They said this marathon was coming up. Could I run 26 miles?

"It was a disaster. I had a side stitch and was getting blisters on my feet. I finished, but I vowed never again. A fellow said I'd be back because it gets in your blood. I ended up running 12 marathons.

"In February 1980, I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My wife joined first and wanted me to join. I had become a wine connoisseur. I had a huge wine collection. I didn't want anything to do with the Mormons because you aren't going to drink wine.

"But I came to read the Book of Mormon and to understand it was true. Wine wasn't as important as I thought, so I gave it up. The church had a health code: Fruits and vegetables as a mainstay. Meat sparingly. No tobacco, coffee, tea or alcohol. Three months later, I ran a marathon and was a minute per mile faster, enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I ran at Boston three times.

"I've had three knee operations, so I can't do it anymore. And I gave up golf. I've had so many skin cancers removed that I don't even count them anymore.

"I'm very active in the church. My wife and I went on a mission in Hong Kong after I retired and were there almost two years. We traveled north from Mongolia, south to Indonesia, west to India and east to Taiwan and all countries in between.

"Every month, we visited one of those countries for a week. We taught people how to interview and write resumes, how get jobs and start businesses. We also would dig wells and give out wheelchairs.

"I'm on the high council of the church and I'm public relations director in this area. It's a very misunderstood religion. We expect a lot of media inquiries because of Mitt Romney.

"My wife and I teach an addiction recovery group on Sunday night. Being the son of alcoholic parents creates tendencies. My wife's parents were alcoholics, too. I haven't had a drink of alcohol in 32 years.

"I had a good career at Kodak. But I have one regret. They rewarded me with a lot of stock options. I wanted do something for my family. I cashed in a bunch of options and took 19 people to Mexico. I wish I had done that more.

"I thought I could retire and have $50,000 a year to cash in on options. The price kept dropping. Now I wish I had cashed in more options.

"In 1994, my first wife, Judy, and I divorced. In 2000, I married Kitty. Together, we have seven children and 11 grandchildren. We have a good life."

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