PROVO — As Provo's mayor, Lewis Billings is used to being in the spotlight when it comes to local issues. It seems public exposure runs in the family because his brother, Roger, is no stranger to publicity either, with recent media coverage focusing on technology, lawsuits and polygamy.
"He has had a lot of press over the years," said Lewis Billings. "He is always doing something unique and different."
Different is an understatement when talking about Roger Billings, who left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over his belief in the divine necessity of polygamy, sued Novell Inc. for allegedly stealing his revolutionary computer idea and now seeks to change the automobile world with hydrogen fuel.
"In my opinion, I no longer believe (the LDS Church) to be true and divine," Roger Billings said. "Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught that it was the will of God that men should have more than one wife."
Now excommunicated from the LDS Church and running a nonprofit graduate school in an underground limestone quarry in Independence, Mo., Billings has revealed in court documents that he follows the teachings of his late friend, Ken Asay, who claimed to be the reincarnation of church founder Joseph Smith.
Despite his unusual lifestyle, Billings says he is renowned for his scientific achievements, both real and alleged.
"Most of my press has been pretty good," Roger Billings said. "When you stand up in court on a ledge and say a company owes you $300 million you just have to expect some negative stuff."
Billings has been standing on that ledge with circuit courts since he obtained a patent in 1987 that credited him with the concept of a computer client-server network. According to Billings, he imagined the network while sitting at his Provo office in 1976, applied for a patent in 1982 and presented his plan at computer conference that same year.
Billings claims Novell engineers took his literature at the conference and used it for the company's 1983 NetWare release.
"I trained Novell to use that system," Billings said.
In a suit filed against Novell in 1991, Billings demanded $220 million in back-royalties for the use of his technology, which has netted the company billions.
"Considering the revenue that Novell has generated as a result of my invention," Billings said, "it only seems natural that they would feel it appropriate to grant me some royalties."
Angered by the claim, Novell countered the suit by questioning Billings' claim of patented ownership, presenting evidence to the U.S. Patent Office that other software companies had developed the same concept long before Billings.
The patent office sided with Novell in June, ruling that Billings had no claim to client-server technology since his patent described a system already in use.
A Novell press release on the matter said the office dissolved Billings' patent, though Billings believes a planned appeal will easily overturn the ruling.
"If the patent had stood, it could have affected the computer networking community generally," Novell attorney Gary Hecker told the Associated Press in July. He said there is little chance for Billings to appeal the landmark ruling.
The ruling came after years of dispute, during which time Novell sought to expose Billings as a religious fanatic by distributing an unpublished pamphlet, "The True Dream of Zion," which Billings wrote to his family in 1985, explaining his decision to leave the LDS Church. In that pamphlet, Billings criticized church leaders for abandoning polygamy — a practice he considers to be sanctioned by God and prophets.
"Either polygamy was wrong and the church was never true," Billings said, "or Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were false prophets and the church was never true."
Such beliefs, Billings acknowledges, alienated his family, who did not speak to him for 10 years after he left the LDS Church. Hurt feelings have since mended, he says, despite their philosophical differences.
"It's a pretty tough thing," Billings said. "Mormons are tolerant of non-Mormons, but if you are a Mormon and decide not to be anymore — now you are labeled labelled as an apostate. I found that out the hard way."
Roger Billings' most recent media attention has focused on his work to utilize hydrogen energy technology — a feat that earned him a spot in the July 21, 2003, issue of Time magazine.
Working with hydrogen is not new to Billings, who won an international science fair at Provo High School for getting his father's Model A to run off hydrogen.
That prize netted him a scholarship to Brigham Young University, where he graduated in chemical engineering and founded Billings Energy Corp. which his brother, the they mayor, helped manage for a time.
Years later and worlds apart, Mayor Billings says he isn't particularly close to Roger, but he still marvels at his talent for science.
"He is extremely bright when it comes to science and technology," Lewis Billings said. "I have to really emphasize the positive respect I have for his brilliance."
Roger Billings, who says he will always feel close to his brother, praises the mayor for taking on the political world.
"I think Lewis is in a very tough position," he said. "He must have a very thick skin to take the criticism that comes with that job."