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Published: Friday, 12/31/2010

Donald R. Fraser, 1927-2010: Patent attorney served as state representative

Donald R. Fraser, who followed his father in the practice of patent law, served two terms as a state representative, and had a patents-related post with the Interior Department in Washington, died Tuesday in a Fort Myers, Fla., hospital. He was 83.

He developed pulmonary fibrosis after brain surgery earlier this month to repair an aneurysm, his wife, Caroline, said. The couple became residents of Fort Myers about six years ago. They returned annually for several months to their Perrysburg home.

Mr. Fraser was senior partner in the Perrysburg firm Fraser, Clemens, Martin & Miller. "He was still practicing," his wife said. "He used to say he wanted to be the oldest practicing patent attorney."

Though he was not licensed to practice Florida law, he was able to handle matters before the U.S. Patent and Trademark office and had an office in Fort Myers. "It was surprising how many clients just out of the blue called him, and he really got a kick out of that," his wife said.

Mr. Fraser formerly headed the intellectual property section at Marshall & Melhorn, the venerable Toledo law firm. "He had tremendous energy. He was very difficult to keep up with. It was a lot of fun trying," said Rick Martin, a partner in Mr. Fraser's current firm. They worked together at Marshall & Melhorn.

"I have often thought he had the makings of a fine Fortune 500 CEO," Mr. Martin said. "If he wanted to do that, he could have done it, but he was devoted to patent practice."

Mr. Fraser was at his best working with mechanical inventions. But whether the item or process was chemical, electrical, or biotechnical, "Don was familiar enough and was such a quick study, he could handle most areas of new technology," Mr. Martin said.

Known for his signature bow ties, Mr. Fraser worked with the largest firms and the smallest and with individual inventors. He was patent and trademark attorney for what is now Abbey International, a machine manufacturing firm, which was run by a friend since kindergarten, the late Nelson D. "Dan" Abbey, Jr. -- as Mr. Fraser's father, Malcolm, was patent attorney for the firm under Mr. Abbey's father.

"This man was unique. He liked people to understand the principles of trademark law," said Allan Block, chairman of Block Communications Inc., parent company of The Blade, and a former client. "He was a teacher and wasn't threatened by his clients' knowing the law. In fact, he wanted them to know the law."

Mr. Fraser was gregarious and charming, a natural public speaker, Mr. Martin said. With his associates, "he could be demanding, and he made us better lawyers," Mr. Martin said.

Born May 21, 1927, to Elizabeth and Malcolm Fraser, he grew up in the Old Orchard neighborhood of West Toledo and attended DeVilbiss High School. The family moved, and he was a graduate of Maumee High School.

He enlisted in the Army on D-Day and served in the Mediterranean Theater, especially Italy. He attended Ohio State University and, with an eye toward a future in patent law, received a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Toledo. He received a law degree from George Washington University and, after graduation, stayed in Washington and worked in a firm there.

He returned to Toledo and joined his father's firm. For about a decade, he taught patent and intellectual property law at UT.

A former Sylvania resident, he was active in the Lucas County Republican Party and, in 1968, was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. While in the House, he was chief sponsor of a consumer protection bill considered far-reaching. He was re-elected in 1970, but was defeated in 1972 by Richard Wittenberg after redistricting.

His expertise was widely known, and he'd been considered for a federal post at least since the early days of the Nixon administration. U.S. Sen. William Saxbe (R., Ohio) recommended to Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans that Mr. Fraser become U.S. commissioner of patents. In the early 1970s, U.S. Sen. Robert Taft (R., Ohio) made the same recommendation to then-Commerce Secretary Frederick Dent.

In 1975, Mr. Fraser was hired as assistant solicitor for patents in the Department of the Interior, checking the patent possibilities of inventions and discoveries by department employees who worked in research and development. The next year, he was promoted to special assistant to the solicitor and was responsible for offering advice and aid on general legal matters.

Not long after, he returned to Toledo and resumed a patent law practice.

He held positions in Wood and Lucas County Republican parties and was a former president of the Northern Wood County Republican Club.

He was on the boards of Hospice of Northwest Ohio; the Sight Center, and Partners in Education.

He was a past commander of American Legion Post No. 335 and was president of the Navy League.

He had been a deacon of Christ Presbyterian Church.

Mr. Fraser loved cars and took part in car shows, his wife said. He doted on a particular Triumph.

Surviving are his wife, Caroline Fraser, whom he married Aug. 16, 1952; son, Donald, Jr.; sister, Margaret Walbridge, and two grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 4-8 p.m. Wednesday in the Witzler-Shank Funeral Home, Perrysburg. Memorial services will be at 10:15 a.m. Thursday in St. Rose Church, Perrysburg. The family suggests tributes to Hospice of Northwest Ohio or a charity of the donor's choice.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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