A number of big firms are beefing up their intellectual property practices in the Denver-Boulder area, where a thriving tech industry of local startups and national companies is fueling demand. With the recession over, clients are spending more on IP protection, and now, boosting the area’s status as an innovation hub, Denver has been selected for a satellite patent office.
Thomas Franklin, a partner in Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton’s Denver office, says the demand for IP services reminds him of the dot-com bubble of the late nineties. “We were so busy [back then], we were turning away new clients,” says Franklin. “This feels like the run-up to that.” Kilpatrick’s Denver office, which has 30 IP lawyers, has hired three patent prosecutors and two patent litigators in the past few months.
Boulder first drew attention as a center of innovation in the 1990s, when a fledgling software industry took root. Since 2007, TechStars, an incubator cofounded by venture capitalist Brad Feld, has graduated classes of around ten tech companies each year. Foundry Group LLC, a $225 million investment fund also cofounded by Feld, helps IT and software start-ups get off the ground, while Silicon Flatirons, a law and entrepreneurship center at the University of Colorado Boulder, supports the scene with networking opportunities and seminars. The local tech scene got a further boost on July 2, when the Patent and Trademark Office announced that Denver would become home to one of four new satellite patent offices.
Regional firm Holland & Hart has hired 14 new IP attorneys in its Denver and Boulder offices since late 2010. “We have people working in conference rooms,” says Don Degnan, a partner at the Boulder office and leader of the firm’s IP practice group. Clients range from Houston-based Marathon Oil Corp. and Amgen Inc., a California biotech developer with facilities in Boulder, to Boulder’s Outlast Technologies LLC, a maker of temperature-resistant materials.
Faegre’s Denver office has hired three IP lawyers since January, and has ads out for additional attorneys and patent agents, says partner Natalie Hanlon-Leh. She adds, “We have so much going on, we haven’t had the capacity to do the additional work that’s out there.” Local clients include Level 3 Communications, Inc., an Internet service provider, and Vail Resorts, Inc., which has a skiing app for smartphones called EpicMix.
Bryan Cave has seen a sharp rise in demand from digital media and marketing companies, says Mark Weakley, managing partner of the firm’s Boulder office, which has eight lawyers focused on the needs of tech companies. “The demand for electronic data privacy counseling in our market has skyrocketed over the past year,” says Weakley.
Cooley has 13 patent-related lawyers in Broomfield, midway between Boulder and Denver, and another seven staff working with IP transactions. In the past year it has hired two lawyers, and in September will bring in another two. Its Colorado-based clients include biofuel developer Gevo Inc., turbine designer Boulder Wind Power, and cybersecurity software developer Webroot, Inc.
Hogan Lovells partner David London says the growth in IP demand began well before the recession. “I’ve seen 20 or 30 percent growth in my practice every year for almost a decade,” says London, whose firm has five IP lawyers in Denver and hopes to hire more soon. Clients include the Digital Cinema Distribution Coalition, a joint venture between major film studios and theaters to develop satellite movie distribution for cinemas.
But Colorado’s technology and innovation scene is just one source of the increase in IP demand: Lawyers in the area also report a rise in national and international clients. Hanlon-Leh of Faegre says that companies are finding the IP services they need in Colorado—at cheaper billing rates than in Northern California and D.C., and from lawyers who are equally qualified. And Degnan says Holland & Hart has also benefited from clients who are looking for new options. “The recession was an opportunity of a lifetime for our firm, because we’ve been able to go to the coast and get an increase in top-tier clients,” Degnan explains. “But for the recession, they might not have looked as deep to get the value that they can.”