Monday, September 20, 2010

"Trust only CHROMELLA Brand Penicillin, manufactured in his Oxfordshire factory by Joseph Florey, Junior"

Howard Florey is famous for dismissing outright any idea that he might patent penicillin, or at least patent his extraction process.

Of course he dismissed the idea - he was Joseph Florey's son, and his family were no idiots in matters concerning Trade Patents, Trade Secrets and Trade Marks ---- far, far, far from it.

It had been the entire basis of the considerable Florey family fortune.

And when his father Joseph's industrial empire all came down around the Florey family, it was because the value of the father's most important asset, the reputation for quality engendered in customers' minds when they saw or heard the term Chromella Brand Leather, had been allowed to be be destroyed by Mr Florey, senior.

It was a lesson, Mr Florey, junior never forgot.

The well spring of the entire wartime penicillin saga lies in the murky business practises of the Anglo Saxon businessman in the Edwardian era , when firms were merged holus-bolus by wily operators and their stocks watered as frequently as one's own garden.

Jospeh Florey got very rich very quickly, probably by using the exact same unsavory practises that Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook) used to get very rich very quickly at exactly the same time in Halifax and Montreal Canada.

Henry Dawson also knew, at fairly first hand , about fluffed up industrial empires that grew quickly and collapsed like a house of cards.

His mother's cousin - and possibly her own banker-brother - had rapidly created a far flung lumber empire, based on borrowing a lot of a bank's money without normal collateral.

The failure never went public, though all the family knew, and the cousin lived a fraudulent life , very publicly pretending to still own and run the biggest lumber empire in Atlantic Canada, while actually the bank was quietly selling it all off in pieces, trying to recover its losses.

The discovery of anything pre-existing and natural like penicillin or of water or air or sunshine can't be patented - it is inherently PD - in the Public Domain for all to enjoy.

Patenting processes to extract or purify it are possible and were frequently employed.

But the true basis of the economic value (if any) of these patents would not lie in what was written on the patent documents.

No, if you paid the patent royalties faithfully and seemed (a) to be trustworthy and (b) a distantly located competitor, then their real value to someone with a license, was the Trade Secrets the patent-holder would tell you directly by sending over highly skilled employees to train your staff.

Pfizer was not alone in dismissing the worth of costly and hard-to-defend, short-lived Trade patents, preferring keep their complicated and subtle production methods top secret -Trade Secrets - for ever and ever.

There was a third route - the route the two Florey's ultimately took :
Trade Marks, "Branding".

Joseph Florey in his advertising said, in effect, "Everyone knows that the shoes I make are very well made and that they are called Chromella - to be sure the shoes you buy really are well made by seeking out that mark of my work."

He then threw the full weight of the law on anyone who dared to use his mark.

When Howard Florey was only one year old, for example, Joseph Florey brought a competitor ,The Hunter Boot Company, before the Supreme Court in Adelaide,seeking an injunction and 1000 pounds in damages, for inserting Chromella in one of their newspaper ads.

The judge dismissed the case - with all costs to be paid by Florey, finding the insertion an accidental error.

He still probably counted the case a victory though - it had put the Hunter Company to considerable bother defending themselves and no doubt many still felt that the insertion hadn't been a 'accident' in reality - so its reputation never did totally recover.

Any future competitor who was tempted to use the Chromella brand on their boots no doubt noted that Florey would be onto them like an attack dog.

The price wasn't worth the pain.

This is the style of doing business Howard Florey grew up with and this is how he made his fame and fortune when Ernst Chain dropped penicillin in his lap in March 1940.

Florey liked money very well, thank you very much - as did his wive, they obsessed about it in fact.

But it was not vast fortunes they sought,  for they could be here today and gone tomorrow, but the lifetime security of a upper middle class professional's salary and pension.

Scientific fame for Howard would bring those kind of professional positions - and it would restore the lost reputation of the Florey family - destroyed throughout Australia by media reports of angry shareholder meetings alleging something was fishy with Joseph Florey's shoe empire.

So first he went the Trade secret route, keeping all information about his extraction methods secret for a year and half, (March 1940-August 1941) despite Britain desperately needing all the
medical help it could get, in those terrible days of the Battle of Britain.

Entirely typical of Florey though - he had avoided WWI's trenches and he wasn't about to do anything extraordinary or risky in WWII either.

He was trying to get one of the drug companies in Britain to commit contractually to his extraction process, not for money directly of course (after all it was Heatley who had actually fine-tuned it, not Florey, by using well known standard chemical techniques suggested to Heatley by others.)

No, Florey would settle for a consultant's role - at a hefty consulting fee of course - that was the honorable way professionals got very rich without violating professional codes of ethics.

Chemically, there was no doubt that his extraction system worked.

But economically - always the weak spot in academic Oxford (see Ivory, Towers, and 'out of it') - it was a bomb, a disaster.

No firm could see it paying, but most - because it was wartime - still offered to voluntarily help improve the process enough to try and get enough penicillin for definitive human clinical trials.

Florey was resigned to this until March 1941 - after all his team had shifted to all out efforts to synthesize penicillin rather than do anymore than the two human cases he had attempted so far.

Then in that March of 1941, he got his own bombshell (Oxford itself was NEVER bombed , not even once) - word of the work of Dawson in New York.

Dawson too had his own penicillin factory - even bigger than Florey's and Dawson had won the race to be the first to put penicillin into a patient by needle - and he had gone public about it, in a public lecture, in February 1941.

He also had treated more patients while focusing on a very well known and very well feared disease - Juvenis Interruptus (Rheumatic Heart Disease) - something that was very media-worthy.

Dawson too had a German Jewish biochemist with a lot bigger
reputation than Chain - in fact this man, Karl Meyer, had long standing contractual links with the American branch of a very famous international drug firm from Germany - Schering Corporation.

Dawson's team might well have beaten him on both patents and trade secrets already.

Florey panicked - ditched his erstwhile British drug company supporters - speeding off to battle Dawson on the grounds his family was most comfortable with - Trade Marks.

His ace in the hole was the unnatural respect every democratic American had for anything British and aristocratic - like the Oxford University Brand.

This brand was a winner world wide, in many areas of education - Oxford textbooks taught one the best way, the only way, to speak English or play music.

Only the Oxford  strain of penicillium, combined with the Oxford standard sample of purified penicillin and the Oxford method assay, was real penicillin , said Florey over and over, all through America.

This was total scientific hogwash but the Floreys hadn't climbed to the top of the Spencerian world of Survival of the Fittest by being concerned with niceties.

Off to battle !

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