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Focus on a Career Engineer

chapter twelve
Back to Princeton and to RCA [1965-1972]

Returning to Princeton and to RCA was a great pleasure for me. RCA was very profitable at the time and the contrast with Varian was striking. Furthermore, I knew the company and most of its key people so no adjustment was necessary. In my new assignment, I reported to Dr. George H. Brown, Executive Vice President of Research and Engineering. Brown reported directly to RCA’s President and was on the Board of Directors. Both RCA Laboratories and RCA’s Patent and Licensing activities reported to Brown. As part of the corporate staff, my job was to coordinate the research and development of all the divisions in the fields of electron tubes and semiconductors and, later, in a new activity for RCA the application of computers to the graphic arts (primarily electronic typesetting and word processing). There were, in addition, numerous staff assignments of a special nature.

About the middle of 1965, RCA asked me to help in a very important patent litigation and, for about nine months, this was my primary responsibility. My involvement came about because John Farley, one of the trial lawyers in the 1949 Barnes v. Air King case (in which I was the expert witness), was now handling the RCA side of the current case, and he thought I’d-be a good witness. Furthermore, the new case involved the color television picture tube work which I had directed. As the case developed, my selection was exceptionally appropriate. The background is as follows.

Among the key inventions used in color picture tubes up to the present day is a photographic method of depositing the color phosphors on the face-plate of the picture tube. Dr. Harold Law, at RCA, had proposed this as early as 1948 and, although we didn’t use the method in the first tubes we demonstrated in 1950, (p. 61) RCA filed a patent application in Law’s name in July 1951. In September 1951, an inventor at Philco, John W. Tiley, also filed an application on the method. In such conflicts, the U.S. Patent Office declares an “Interference” and takes testimony to determine who should be granted the patent. The general rule is that the first person to “reduce to practice,” i.e., either to file or to successfully use the idea, is the winner. Philco prevailed in the Patent Office action by persuading the examiners that, although they didn’t file first, they were the first to use the method successfully in a color tube. RCA appealed and eventually the case was to be tried in the Federal District Court in Trenton, N.J., under Judge Arthur Lane. The prior actions took many years; it was only in 1965 that trial was finally scheduled for early 1966. Formally, the case was called RCA v. Philco, but we participants called it the Tiley-Law case, after the two inventors.

The RCA appeal was based on several contentions. Long after the Patent Office decision in favor of Philco, RCA found out that an associate of Law in 1948, Sadowsky, who had left RCA in 1949 to join Philco, had shown his new employer RCA records of the Law invention. Philco claimed that Tiley knew nothing of this, even though Sadowsky was working closely with Tiley. RCA also claimed that Law had actually “reduced to practice” his idea in 1948 in some crude experiments depositing phosphors with light-sensitized gelatin. Philco countered by claiming that gelatin wouldn’t work because successful processes required a poly-vinyl alcohol (PVA) as used by Tiley and by all manufacturers of color picture tubes. Finally, RCA claimed that the Philco color tubes made by Tiley had failed to meet a reasonable test for “reduction to practice” because of inferior performance which Philco, of course, denied. I was involved in every technical aspect of the case, but my main job was to prove to the Court that not one (p. 62) of the hundreds of tubes made with Tiley’s process was satisfactory. For about six months, I studied thousands of pages of Philco records to prepare for the trial and to get our exhibits and testimony ready.

The trial started February 8 and ended April 7, 1966, with 31 trial days in all. I was on the witness stand for 14 days, a very long time indeed, and I was subjected to grueling cross-examination. The most telling argument against Philco’s alleged “reduction to practice” was uniquely my own contribution. In our 1950 color-tube demonstrations, I personally took the only color pictures, and the originals had been in my possession all through the intervening 16 years, which made them incontrovertible evidence. When we projected my slides for the judge, and compared them with the ludicrously inferior color pictures in the Philco records, it became clear that Tiley had not met a reasonable standard of success. I supported our argument by a detailed study of several hundred Philco experimental tubes and showed that Philco’s own records described defect after defect.

When our opening case was over, Philco put on their defense witnesses, one of whom, Dr. Robert Bowie, was a retired Sylvania vice president I had known for some years. He was a competent and honest man, but Philco had failed to give him the time and the support which I had from RCA. Our better preparation enabled us to destroy much of the value of this testimony in our cross-examination. Another Philco witness, William Bradley, was a former Philco employee; his testimony had me worried. He was letter-perfect in every sentence, he recited incidents of events 15 years back in great detail, and was unshakable in cross-examination. Each night, we’d read the day’s testimony; Bradley’s read as if it had been edited by a combination of Philco’s counsel and a Ph.D. in English. (p. 63)

The most exciting part of the trial came toward the end when Philco surprised us with a chemistry expert witness on gelatin who confirmed their contention that ordinary food gelatins, such as Law had used in 1948, were so inferior that they could hardly be expected to work. It was then our turn for a bigger surprise in rebuttal. After some hasty telephone calls to our Lancaster color-tube plant, an old box of food gelatin was found and, in three days, several color tubes were made up with this gelatin and a color set using one of these tubes was sent us. The results were so good that they amazed even us; a layman could not distinguish the color pictures from those of regular picture tubes. On the very last week of the trial, we confidently marched the judge, all the lawyers, and Philco’s experts over to our local counsel’s office and demonstrated color pictures on a tube made with food gelatin!

A year later, Judge Lane issued his decision; he ruled in favor of RCA on every issue in contention, in so sweeping a decision that Philco didn’t even try to appeal. The patent was issued to Dr. Law in 1968, with 17 more years for RCA to collect royalty payments on just about every color tube made since then. I was particularly pleased by Judge Lane’s comments on the testimony: “Dr. Herold exhibited profound knowledge in the field of color television development and. this court was impressed with his apparent objectivity and honesty.” As to Bradley, the man with the perfect memory and the perfect testimony, I needn’t have worried. Judge Lane said, “Bradley clearly displayed an intent to color his testimony to support the contentions of his former employer, Philco. During the course of Bradley’s examination, this court concluded that much of his testimony was unworthy of belief.” So, perfection is not normal in mankind and, when it appears, don’t believe it!

(p. 64)

Most of my regular work on the corporate staff consisted of reviewing the budgets and programs of the Laboratories and the operating divisions and, after recommending changes to better suit overall corporate objectives, monitor the programs to see how well they were carried out. I was also asked to set up a research group to support RCA’s new Graphic Systems Division, wherein we explored the application of lasers and other new technologies in the graphic arts. In 1971, RCA withdrew from the computer business and also disbanded the Graphics Systems Division, so the work of my group came to nought. However, Dr. Fischbeck, whom I had appointed to head the work, never lost interest and eventually joined Xerox to continue research in the field.

Among the major problems RCA faced was the inter-divisional bickering and jockeying for credit in the corporate profit picture. Dr. Harold Sobol, one of my assistants, and I developed a new approach to one part of the problem which involved interdependent divisions. It was typical for corporate headquarters to judge each division by its operating profits, i.e., each division tried to maximize its own performance. However, few of the divisions were completely independent. For example, the division which made color picture tubes sold them to the division which made color sets, but they also sold to competing color television set companies. When each division was independently evaluated, pricing conflicts ensued and it was unlikely that maximum corporate profit would be achieved. Sobol and I worked out a new system for evaluation of division performance, wherein inter-divisional sales were used to find a new “adjusted profit.” The adjusted profit consisted of the linear sum of a fraction of the division’s own profit, plus a fraction of the profit of each division with which there were inter-divisional transactions. We worked out the mathematical relationships and the matrix (p. 65) components for a multi-divisional corporation, and showed that the overall result maximized corporate profit. RCA never adopted our idea and, instead, chose to put the picture-tube operation under the same management as the set operation. This solved the internal problem at the expense of external picture-tube sales, i.e., it certainly did not maximize corporate profit. Even today, Sobol and I, both long gone from RCA, believe we had an innovation: a workable, valuable solution to a wide-spread corporate management problem. I think we failed to sell our concept because it used mathematical logic and required an understanding of simple matrix algebra, which seemed to be beyond the capability of the usual corporate management. To put this in other words, no one ever found anything wrong in what we did and it was never criticized even on practical grounds. We like to think that, some day, the world will discover and use our idea.

My IEEE activities expanded considerably between 1965 and 1972, as a member of the Technical Activities Board, as program chairman for the New York Convention, as a member of the Awards Board, and in several editorial capacities. I was offered the opportunity to become a Vice President, possibly to be followed by the Presidency, but such jobs required RCA to donate up to half, or more, of my time; after I consulted Dr. Brown, he seemed reluctant to agree to this so I turned down these opportunities. About 1969, Dr, Brown’s status was changed and I reported to Dr. James Hillier, Brown’s successor. Although my duties and responsibilities remained the same, my job was formalized with a title, Director of Technology, for the corporation.

As has been mentioned, I had been a member of the Advisory Group on Electron Devices (AGED) for the U.S. Department of Defense since 1950. In 1968, I requested that I not be re-appointed, but (p. 66) my association with the activity continued in another capacity. The AGED had been using a secretariat operated by New York University and, in 1969, this secretariat was organized as a separate, independent, non-profit corporation called the Palisades Institute for Research Services. I was asked to be Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and have remained so up to the time of writing this (1983). Palisades was a small organization, with about a dozen engineers and a somewhat larger number of clerical help, located in a government-owned building in lower Manhattan. There was no conflict of interest with RCA so I was permitted to join the Board. In this position, I continued contact with AGED and received their reports.

RCA had a policy of retirement at age 65 and, as this point approached, I gave some thought to my own situation. I had no desire to retire, nor did I think my usefulness in technical matters was coming to an end. I recognized that individual variations were so great, particularly among professionals and executives, that some should retire at 55, others could be valuable employees as late as age 75. A step-function compulsory retirement at 65 was totally unsuited to reality, just as unsatisfactory as a policy of paying everyone the same salary independent of individual differences. I prepared a detailed report showing how a flexible retirement system for the professional/executive class could be managed. With actuarial data, I showed that the same pension could be given at any age between 55 and 75 without incurring any higher cost than with a fixed-age retirement plan; the costs of those who retired early were balanced by the savings on others who retired later. My plan went to RCA’s Executive VP for Industrial Relations, the top man for personnel matters. He rejected my suggestions outright and went even further by refusing to permit any consulting contracts or extensions of (p. 67) employment in any form beyond age 65, anywhere in RCA. The policy was intended to make things simple to administer and understand, the kind of policy well suited for agreements with labor unions. For the professional/executive class, the policy was so foolish that operating managers soon found ways to circumvent it. Some years later, after I was retired, I was among the circumventers, when I became a consultant to the outside law firm which handled RCA’s patent litigation.

The year before I retired from RCA, I decided to apply for my NJ Professional Engineer’s License, in the event that I wanted to do some consulting afterwards. My years of experience and positions of responsibility made it unnecessary to take the written examination, so I was only questioned orally by the licensing board, and had no difficulty in persuading them of my competence. My retirement occurred officially on October 31, 1972. Because my wife and I didn’t move from Princeton, I continued to see many of my former colleagues from time to time and I also had free access to RCA at any time thereafter. (p. 68)

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