Book Review: A Triumph of Genius

A Triumph of Genius,By: Ronald K. Fierstein

Review by Roland Casillas

With the amount of interesting facts that were packed into this book, it is hard to create a chronological summary of what developed throughout Edwin Land’s life and occupation. But, each chapter sheds new light into one of the largest legal battles of the century. The story develops a picture perfect company, Kodak, assisting a newly formed company, Polaroid, to create an innovative product that will change the face of photography.

The book starts off by introducing the reader to a young Edwin H. Land, creator of Polaroid, and his brilliance and ingenuity in striving for the ultimate all-in-one camera. Throughout this journey, Land met and joined forces with amazing individuals and a particular company that would help shape the face of Polaroid. This company was Kodak, but as their relationship progressed, the companies and individuals within them would become distant and soon competitors in a newly formed niche market, called instant photography.

Aside from the relationship between Polaroid and Kodak, the book describes how one man and his company would use the patent system to their benefit. In an era unappreciative of the patent system for its seemingly monopolistic effect on business, Land expressed and utilized the patent system to enable scientists to freely work in their environment without regard for losing their hard work to another because it was not protected under the law. Land regarded the patent system as enabling inventors to capitalize and spread their knowledge to others without having the redundancy of research to further advance their field. Land felt so strongly about the patent system, when Polaroid and its employees would create something that may resemble an inventive concept, Polaroid would file a patent application to protect each idea.

The business relationship between Polaroid and Kodak was very good for approximately two decades while Polaroid was creating and developing the instant photography market until Kodak began to realize that Polaroid was creating something very innovative that would change the face of photography for amateurs. Toward the end of the business relationship, Kodak announced they were going to compete directly with Polaroid and would be coming out with a comparable camera and film cartridge. It took Kodak seven years for research and development before they would come up with at least one product to compete. But, when that day came, it was obvious from Polaroid’s point of view, these products were using their patented technology and processes in a crude and disappointing manner. At this point, Polaroid had no choice but file a lawsuit for literal patent infringement against Kodak for the unlawful use of Polaroid’s patents pertaining to instant photography.

Once trial began, both sides knew it would be a long and tough road, needing to battle each and every day. Polaroid presented a case in which the infringing products used the patented devices and processes of Polaroid, while Kodak presented a case in which all of the patents at issue were invalid and thus unenforceable. There were 74 days of trial, which were mostly consumed by Kodak and their slow and meticulous trial tactics. The outcome of the trial seemed to be based on the testimonies of both Land and Rogers, which helped the judge understand the very complex nature of the case and the patents at issue. After about three and a half years total, from start to finish, the judgment was made in favor of Polaroid. The court found eight of the ten patents valid and Kodak had literally infringed on seven of those. Kodak was to pay almost nine million dollars for their conduct.

The book is "A Triumph of Genius," by Ronald K. Fierstein. Get it here.

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