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Charles Hieken

Charles Hieken, a pioneer in the highly specialized world of intellectual property law, passed away on May 31, 2018 at the age of 89. Hieken was one of the co-organizers of BOSE Corporation with Dr. Amar G. Bose and Dr. Y.L. Lee and was a well-known patent attorney at Fish & Richardson in Boston for over 30 years.

Hieken met Dr. Bose in a physics class in 1949 while both were students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where Hieken received his B.S. in electrical engineering in 1951 and his master’s degree in 1952. During his last year at MIT, Hieken took a course on inventions, which sparked his interest in intellectual property law. He was accepted into Harvard Law School in 1952, but was forced to defer his studies for two years when he was drafted to serve during the Korean War. While attending law school, Hieken helped his friend Dr. Bose build and patent a prototype of Bose’s idea for a spherical loudspeaker. Hieken filed the first patent for this groundbreaking technology in 1956.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1957, Hieken briefly practiced law in Chicago before returning to Boston. In 1964, Bose, Hieken, and Lee organized BOSE Corporation. In addition to practicing law, Hieken served as president of BOSE from 1967 to 1969. While BOSE was always one of his most important clients, he handled many other significant companies and cases. He won two landmark precedent-setting cases for Aro Manufacturing Co. before the U.S. Supreme Court – Aro I in 1961 and Aro II in 1964 – which established a fundamental principle of patent law: when a product could be repaired without infringing a patent covering the product.

In the early 70s, Hieken started a solo law practice and Fish often referred work to him. In 1987, Fish invited him to join the firm and Hieken told a reporter “It took me about 30 seconds to say ‘I’d love to join you.’” He frequently joked that it took him 30 years and 30 seconds to finally join Fish, where he had worked as a law clerk after his second year of law school in 1956. He spent the next 31 years working at Fish – representing BOSE and many other leading technology companies – and continuing his work as a trailblazing patent innovator.

One of Hieken’s many impressive accomplishments was his role in establishing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Court. Hieken served on President Jimmy Carter’s Advisory Committee on Industrial Innovation, which recommended the establishment of this specialized patent appeals court to bring uniformity to the field of patent law.

He was particularly proud of the long list of inventors he successfully nominated into the National Inventors Hall of Fame: Dr. Andrew Alford, the inventor of LORAN; Dr. C. Stark Draper, the father of inertial navigation; Dr. Harold E. Edgerton, the father of stroboscopy; and Dr. John C. Sheehan, the synthesizer of penicillin.

Born on August 15, 1928, Hieken grew up in Granite City, Illinois. He attended Granite City High School and, in 1944, when he was only 16, he enlisted in the Merchant Marines. He was sent to Catalina Island for basic training where he earned the highest mark on the mathematics examination for radio school and was transferred to Gallups Island, MA for training as a Merchant Marine radio operator. He graduated in April 1945 and passed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) examination for a Radio Telegraph Operator license, eventually receiving FCC first-class radio telegraph and radio telephone licenses and a U.S. Coast Guard U.S. Merchant Marine Officer’s license.

In April 1945, he sailed as a radio officer on the Escanaba Victory to Okinawa, Japan. Hieken was at Iwo Jima during the kamikaze attacks against the U.S. fleet.  Hieken and the Escanaba Victory sailed for Guadalcanal, celebrating V-J Day enroute. He then made a number of trips to South and East Africa as a radio officer on ships of the American South African Line. He served as a radio officer on the S.S. AMERICA for its maiden post-war voyage and served on the AMERICA until September 1947 – completing his high school diploma through a correspondence course before being admitted to MIT, the only college he applied to.

He met his beloved wife Donna, a world-class flutist, in Boston in 1959 and they married on January 6, 1961. They were married for over 50 years before her death in July 2012. Together, they endowed the Hieken Professorship of Patent Law at Harvard Law School in 2004, the Donna Hieken Flute Chair at the New England Conservatory of Music in 2005, and the Hieken Professorship of Business and Professional Ethics at Bentley College in 2006.

Hieken leaves a daughter Tina, her husband Arthur Handelman, and their children Haley and Owen of Rochester, MN; a son Seth, his wife Karen Hieken, and their children Eryn and Samuel of Duxbury, MA; and three siblings, Harvey Hieken, 92, of St. Louis, MO, Milton Hieken, 87, of St. Louis, MO, and Suzanne Cohan, 82, of Rockport, MA. No funeral is planned, but a celebration of Hieken’s life will be announced later.  For those wishing to make memorial contributions please consider The Donna Hieken Flute Scholarship Fund, c/o Shannon Cuff, New England Conservatory, 290 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02115.