Why did you decide to pursue a career in patent law?
I have always been interested in technology and that initially led me to pursue engineering. However, as I studied engineering, I became fascinated with the intersection between technology development and the legal protection of inventions. Protecting the business advantages that inventors create by investing in innovation is critical in today’s high-tech society and has led to the incredible advances that we have seen over the past several decades. Patent law is at the forefront of this protection and it is a privilege and an honour to play a small part in this noble profession.
What are the biggest challenges in setting up your own firm?
The two biggest challenges are related – the first is finding high-quality clients and the second is bringing on talented colleagues to help service those clients. I think it is important to work for clients and with colleagues who you respect and who share your professional values. Life is too short to work for and with people who do not help to create joy and satisfaction in your professional life. However, this needs to be balanced against making sure that there is sufficient diversity in the team to provide many different viewpoints in addressing issues. Indeed, creating an environment where a diversity of backgrounds and experiences is welcomed and respect for competing ideas is encouraged is a key to any successful organisation.
How would you characterise the current state of play in the US patent transactions market?
I believe that the market is in the early stages of an upswing. After a long, steady (and sometimes swift) decline over about a decade, the US transactions market seems to be improving as value expectations from buyers and sellers converge. There was a great amount of uncertainty injected into the patent system in a short period which created huge gaps between the value expectations of buyers and sellers, and it has taken time to sort out the many changes to the patent system and controlling laws. As more certainty enters the system, it necessarily helps converge the positions and valuations of people sitting on opposite sides of the negotiating table, creating an environment that is more amenable to negotiated settlements.
If you could make one change to the current US patent regime, what would it be?
I believe that we must find a way to create more civility, respect and humility in our interactions with one another in the patent community. The lack of civility – including ascribing bad motives to adversaries and name calling (eg, ‘patent trolls’ and ‘efficient infringers’) – gets in the way of deal making. It is important to listen to adversaries and attempt to understand where they are coming from and why they believe that their positions are supported. Only then can you respond in the optimal fashion to represent your clients’ interests. Note that civility does not mean agreeability and treating adversaries with civility and respect need not prevent vigorous advocacy of your clients’ interests. The move to greater civility needs to be a community effort across the legal industry, which can be led by the patent community.
How do you expect the US patent environment to develop over the next few years?
The patent community will continue to interpret and digest the many changes to the patent landscape, and some consensus will begin to arrive in the interpretation, creating greater certainty in the patent field. As the interpretation of the changes in the law evolves and solidifies, it will become easier to complete deals in a less adversarial fashion, with less transaction costs (and lower litigation rates) and in a manner that is better for both sides of the negotiating table. As long as there are no additional drastic changes to the legal or business landscape in the patent field, the deal-making environment should continue to improve.
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