Jerome Rubin, who helped bring to market the commercial online research database today known as LexisNexis and the display technology behind millions of Amazon Kindles and other e-readers, died of a stroke in Manhattan on Monday, Jan. 9. He was 86.
Rubin was trained as a physicist and attorney but in the 1970s was hired by an Ohio-based company to make commercially viable what was then a novel product — a computer “search and retrieval system” or database of state case law.
Rubin helped lead the launch of the database in 1973, initially built to run on customized terminals. It was joined a few years later by Nexis, focused on news, including wire service and newspaper articles.
Bob Bennett, who worked with Rubin during the development of LexisNexis, said the system was initially designed by lawyers for lawyers.
“We were building something new. It didn’t exist,” he said. “It was the first that was on any large scale and successful.”
Rubin later worked as an executive at the Times Mirror Co., in a specialized publishing division, before retiring in the early 1990s and joining MIT’s Media Laboratory, where he led a consortium called “News in the Future.” It was out of this work that in 1997 he helped co-found E Ink, a company devoted to developing electronic paper for publishing, said Russ Wilcox, who founded E Ink with Rubin and three others.
“At an age when most men would be relaxing on the golf course, Jerry felt nothing could be more fun for him than to start a brand new company with cutting-edge technology poised to change the world,” Wilcox said. “He saw business as an adventure and he inspired others around him to dream big.”
In an interview published in Harvard Magazine in 2000, Rubin talked about having an electronic newspaper, “one broadsheet, the size of the New York Times” on the breakfast table.
“It would look like an ordinary sheet of paper,” he said. “You’ll turn a little switch at one corner of it as you begin to pour your orange juice and, within a second or two, the front page of the Times — or the Harvard Crimson or whatever you want — will pop up. They are all delivered wireless.”
“He could see much further in the distance than pretty much anybody,” said Linda Gras, who was his assistant from 1984 to 1992, in a phone interview Wednesday.
Rubin attended Harvard College and Law School. He is survived by a son and a daughter.