In its Nov. 23, 2002 issue, IP Worldwide ran an article questioning the viability of independent IP firms. The piece quoted several named, and unnamed, sources, all of whom predicted a murky future for independent firms. The APLF has submitted the following letter to the editor of IP Worldwide that is due for publication in January, 2003.
The Reports of Our Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
The attorneys quoted in the Nov. 23 issue predicting the demise of independent firms entirely devoted to intellectual property law truly do not understand the current legal market. Such comments are typical of a frustrated competitor, not one who has been listening carefully to clients and is observing the trends in the legal market that are affecting law firms of all sizes.
The fact is that clients have become much more sophisticated in their choice of outside law firms, particularly in the intellectual property field. A large and quickly growing number of business decision makers, who 10 or 15 years ago knew nothing of patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, etc., now realize that their company's intellectual property is very valuable and often critical to effective competition in their markets. As result, the truism that clients hire the best lawyers, not the law firm, was never truer than it is today.
The best IP lawyers, until very recently, could only be found in independent intellectual property law firms. Several years ago, many large general practice firms concluded that intellectual property law was a "must have" practice, and thus launched aggressive efforts to hire talent from or merge with successful IP firms. Very few large general practice firms have attempted to develop their own IP departments. Those that have tried to do this have generally failed, leading to the recent phenomena of general practice firms acquiring patent lawyers and specialty firms. This situation confirms, rather than negates, the merits and benefits to lawyers and clients of the expertise that is developed and promoted by independent IP law firms.
The recent demise of Lyon & Lyon, and mergers of established IP practices with large general firms reflect changes in the legal market as a whole. The competition between outside law firms is more intense than it has ever been in the past, in every field of law. Large general law firms have merged to make even larger general firms, and firms of all sizes have drastically cut back or disbanded their practice due to a variety of economic factors and business decisions. This has been particularly true for the California firms dependant on the hard-hit high tech business sector.
Independent IP firms of all sizes will continue to be a powerful force in the market for intellectual property legal services. Indeed, the listings of the largest court wins of the year regularly include intellectual property cases won by independent intellectual property firms. Even more very significant cases are successfully resolved by independent IP firms short of trial, and in a manner that serves the best business interests of their clients. Indeed, announcements from the big general practice firms about their newly acquired patent practices most often involve "free agent" lawyers chasing higher dollars (a phenomena common in all practice areas) or patent firms that were recognized by their peers as experiencing a certain amount of difficulty.
The fact remains that very few large general practice firms can offer the depth and breath of expertise, in litigation, prosecution or counseling service, that are the standard offerings of independent IP firms. If the large general firms have an advantage, it is their willingness and ability to devote large budgets to advertise and promote their services. Few independent IP firms have (or desire to spend) the resources that many large general firm devoted to advertising and promoting their IP departments. Of course, those large advertising budgets also give rise to higher billing rates, a separate phenomenon which clients are also coming to recognize.
The Association of Patent Law Firms was formed to level the playing field between patent specialty firms and large general practice firms. The APLF promotes the expertise and benefits of its member firms, in all aspects of the IP field. Indeed, our members regularly make the "big win" stories in the legal press, and all devote their entire practice to intellectual property law. Our experience underscores the fact that independent IP firms are often the first choice for clients looking for the best lawyers for their intellectual property matters.
Philip T. Petti, President
The Association of Patent Law Firms
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