Walter Blenko, Jr., Law ’53
Currently of counsel at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC as well as President of Blenko Glass Company since 2003, Mr. Blenko began his career with the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Recently, Pitt Law sat down with Mr. Blenko and asked him to reflect upon his career.
Mr. Blenko remembers Pitt Law with fondness as the faculty guided him and his studies throughout his years as a student. As for his law practice, Mr. Blenko enjoys the inventive minds he has met regularly over the years. “A lot of [my] work dealt with inventors, they are a breed unto themselves. It’s said that the act of invention is derived from doing something in an illogical way. If you do it the way anyone can do it, it’s not an invention. You’ve got to be a little crazy to be an inventor.”
Mr. Blenko was not involved in daily operations with Blenko Glass Company until just a few years ago. Since taking the helm, Blenko has made changes to management and had created a strong workforce, both of which have helped Blenko Glass become a stronger, healthier company. He attributes much of his success to both his engineering and law background. Engineering helped him stay focused on the facts while law showed him how to understand people and their motivations. "That is what law is about; being well rounded and ready to deal with anything."
“There’s a term considered derogatory and that’s country lawyer. A country lawyer has to deal with anything that comes through the door. But in my experiences, it is those types of lawyers who are actual lawyers in every sense of the word, no matter what the focus.”
Read the full interview.
Tell us how it is that you chose to attend Pitt Law for your education.
First, I felt engineering was something I wanted to get into. My father was a lawyer and he was working on something we used to call patent, trademark, and copyright law. Engineering tied into that, I thought. After years in the service, I decided to pull the two fields together. I attended Carnegie Tech [now known as Carnegie Mellon University] in mechanical engineering and decided that, after my undergraduate studies, I ought to go to law school.
It seemed to me that there was a lot to be said for staying where you would be practicing and knowing the local people in the area with whom you’d be working. There were two law schools [I considered] at that time: one at Penn and one at Pitt. Duquesne was only doing night school then and I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into that. My brother ended up going to Penn…and he stayed on in Philadelphia to practice. The question I had was whether to go to Philadelphia or go to Pittsburgh. My wife had a job here, so that factored into my decision-making.
But my final decision factor to attend Pitt Law was Pitt’s standing. It was -- and is -- very good!
Are there any faculty or courses you took during your time at Pitt Law that had a weighty impact on the development of your career?
Everyone on the faculty had something to contribute and I think all of them, at one time or another, helped me along the way. I know some of the teachers at the time drove me crazy and I was frustrated, but in retrospect I did learn from them. It may have been in a negative sense, but I did learn!
One of the things that comes into the practice of law is understanding people; what motivates them and why they do the things they do. If you don’t recognize, you’ve got a problem. I’ve sometimes thought I really have the best of two worlds with my background in engineering and law. Engineers get themselves tied to facts and reality. Unfortunately, many of them don’t realize that human beings don’t work like that. A lot of emotion and feeling comes into it. As for law, too many lawyers think such and such will be a good idea without any regard to underlying facts of reality. So, I think I was able to bridge that gap of knowledge with my background.
As I think of the people I knew while at Pitt Law, I remember they all had interesting things to say and do, and I remember most of them with fondness. We had a very close social life with the faculty. We had parties that involved the faculty and I participated fully. I remember being in their homes for a cocktail or a chat; it was very a cordial and grown up way of getting through school.
We understand that you still practice patent law at Eckert Seamans. Tell us a little about your role in the development of the patent law practice there.
I got into patent trademark and copyright law. They call it intellectual property now. I did that steadily until retirement. A lot of the work dealt with inventors, they are a breed unto themselves. It’s said that the act of invention is derived from doing something in an illogical way. If you do it the way anyone can do it, it’s not an invention. You’ve got to be a little crazy to be an inventor. From there, the patent issues arise. What to do? You get into situations of usage. Some of my dealings have been with highway construction, underwater pipelines, polymer chemistry, silicon elastics, metallurgy, steel mill equipment, strain measurements, circuits, and so on. It’s all been a fascinating spread and it involves a lot of travel.
The printed circuit comes to mind as particularly interesting case. One version was eliminating variation in wiring. As you got into higher frequencies and smaller sizes, this becomes critical. So, this particular patent case stemmed from a man named Paul Eisler. His backers tried to promote the printed circuit but no one thought it could work because of the natural strain they believed in wouldn’t stand. Well, time passed and soon enough, everyone only wanted the printed circuit. Now we all use it. There are a lot of variations and improvements but no one uses anything but printed circuits now.
On a lighter note, we see that you’re the President of the Classic Car Club of America’s Museum. How did you get involved in that?
I’m interested in old cars and other mechanical things. This goes way, way back to my first car, a Ford, which had some modifications. Little by little, I became more interested and slowly acquired some more cars. Then I joined the Car Club which focuses on the classics built ‘26 to ‘42 when well built coach work was not unheard of. The museum basically tries to preserve some history. I’ve been a President for 3 years and it’s been a great run.
If there any advice you could give to a prospective student currently looking at Pitt Law for his or her education, what would it be?
One ought to try to become a competent lawyer. Too often people get carried away with the intricacies of their own specializations. I’ve always thought that was a mistake. For myself, I would rather be known as a good lawyer who happens to deal with IP than a good IP lawyer. I’ve found through some of my experiences in court that hot-shot patent lawyers did not know as much about litigation as they did IP law. These were people who narrowed their focus so much that they were not broad-gauge lawyers.
You know, there’s a term lawyers use that’s considered derogatory, and that’s country lawyer. Well, a country lawyer has to deal with anything that comes through the door and in my experiences it is those types of lawyers who are actual lawyers in every sense of the word no matter what focus. So, I would advise anyone going into law that he or she must keep an open mind and not study one thing.