A Triumph of Genius: Edwin Land, Polaroid, and the Kodak Patent War
Ronald K. Fierstein
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Apple founder Steve Jobs once hailed Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid and the father of instant photography, as "a national treasure" and once confessed to a reporter that meeting Land was "like visiting a shrine." By his own admission, Jobs modeled much of his own career after Land’s. Both Jobs and Land stand out today as unique and towering figures in the history of technology. Neither had a college degree, but both built highly successful and innovative organizations. Jobs and Land were both perfectionists with an almost fanatic attentiveness to detail, in addition to being consummate showmen and instinctive marketers. In many ways, Edwin Land was the original Steve Jobs.
This riveting new biography visits the spectacular life of Edwin Land, perhaps the most important, yet least known inventor and technology entrepreneur in American history. Land’s most famous achievement was the creation of a revolutionary film and camera system that could produce a photographic print moments after the picture was taken. A Triumph of Genius takes you behind the scenes of this reclusive genius’s discoveries, triumphs, and defeats.
You'll learn details of Land’s involvement over four decades with top-secret U.S. military intelligence efforts during World War II and through the Cold War in the service of seven American presidents. Additionally, you'll thrill to the compelling first-hand look at one of our nation’s most important legal battles over intellectual property—Polaroid versus Kodak. This corporate and legal struggle is a story of almost operatic dimension. What began as a cooperative and collegial relationship ended in Kodak’s betrayal. The conflict led to an epic legal battle, a dramatic event for Land who, from the witness stand, personally starred in a compelling courtroom drama.
More than a simple business biography, A Triumph of Genius chronicles the man and the icon whose technological brilliance paved the way for another of the 20th century’s greatest innovators, Steve Jobs.
products by 150 jobs through a program of rotating furloughs.47 In May, it announced a rebate program for consumers and dealers in an attempt to spur sales of its instant cameras and film.48 Spokesmen denied that this was a price war with Polaroid, claiming it was merely an attempt to “build up our instant camera base.”49 However, to others it appeared, along with the layoffs, to be another sign of weakness as Kodak struggled with the launch of its instant-photography line. During this period,
observers saw the actions of Polaroid or Land as improper. Given the extraordinary sales year Polaroid had enjoyed in 1978, some analysts recognized that it seemed like a perfect opportunity for the company to offset losses it had accrued on the Polavision system.13 The timing for the sale of stock by Land’s foundation was mere coincidence; it was justified as necessary to raise capital to acquire property and to begin construction of a research facility. Nonetheless, despite the fact that the
1984. The attorneys had moved on to other matters, but through this period both Polaroid and Kodak were mired in difficult business circumstances, and both were anxious for a decision. Like Polaroid before it, Kodak went through a leadership succession. In May 1983, Walter Fallon, the combative chief executive who had steadfastly maintained Kodak’s position against any kind of compromise in the Polaroid litigation, announced his retirement. The Kodak board elected Colby Chandler to succeed him as
“therefore could not be a basis for compelling Kodak to withdraw from the market.” Although he concluded that the two camera patents on which Polaroid had prevailed might hold up on appeal, he thought that they “can probably be designed around in one way or another and thus would [also] not be a basis for forcing Kodak to withdraw from the market.” Within a few weeks, the court of appeals set an accelerated briefing schedule for Kodak’s appeal of the underlying decision on the merits. On
Boston Globe eulogized the company by reminding its readers just how special an institution it had been: Polaroid . . . was the Apple of its day: feisty, ubiquitous, pioneering. The Polaroid camera was like the Mac, with all other consumer cameras PCs. There was the same sense of engineering superiority and cultural cachet. . . . Polaroid uniquely stood at the intersection of science, business and art. . . . It was also a talisman of a lifestyle. So far as the great mass of middle-class