HP Santa Rosa Urinal Event

I had essentially bet my company on this Model 360. It was not too unusual for me since I had literally been betting the company on each new product for 20 years. But the stakes got higher each time. Anyway, because of my independent position I could be a bit nonchalant about the whole thing in contrast to the HP managers, who had all kinds of pressure on them and were doing some really strange things as a result.

Probably the strangest episode of our long competition with HP was the Santa Rosa urinal affair. The Santa Rosa engineers had duplicated a WILTRON logo—had placed a waterproof version of this logo in an upright position in the urinal. Everybody could thus take it out on WILTRON.

This was amusing enough in its own right but, further just to show the paranoia of HP in general, their attorney in charge of patents and copyrights found out what was being done and feared prosecution by WILTRON for unauthorized use of our copyrighted logo.

The situation couldn’t have gotten any more comical—WILTRON’s honor rescued by Hewlett-Packard’s Intellectual Property Lawyer. This was a humorous sidelight in what was a serious legal battle between our two companies.

The whole legal battle started when WILTRON’s Pete Lacy came up with a network analyzer that was better than anything that had been done before—a real lifesaver for engineers trying to design phase array radars. These were radars that came out toward the end of the cold war with Russia but had never really been tried out in full-scale combat. Pete procrastinated, but finally I made him get a patent on our analyzer.

Since HP clearly usurped the patent two years later, I had them dutifully notified of that fact. When HP stone-walled us, we had to either sue them or shut up. At this critical moment Pete Lacy avowed that we had been a few months late in applying for our patent, that he had made premature disclosure of our invention and that our patent would probably not stand up. I decided under the circumstances not to sue a giant company that had infinitely more resources than we did.

The ironic thing then was that Hewlett-Packard proceeded to get patents on a lot of the tiny features of their network analyzer, so when we at WILTRON came out with our second generation, we inevitably used some of the features described in the HP patent, features that we felt were trivial and unpatentable. WILTRON sued HP for unfair competition and HP sued WILTRON for patent infringement. We both had pretty good cases and top attorneys as well. WILTRON’s competition had cost HP dearly in profits from their most profitable division. They lost business to us and also had to drastically reduce their price. But Packard thought he had us neutralized with his patent suit.

The final result of our patent standoff with HP was a settlement initiated by WILTRON’s Peter Chalfant and endorsed by HP President John Young. Packard did not hear about this settlement until it was accomplished. Then he was quite upset. Packard probably felt some pleasure in replacing John Young as president shortly thereafter


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