Sarah Columbia of McDermott Will & Emery
Sarah Columbia of McDermott Will & Emery (FayFoto/Boston)

Tell the story: That approach to juries was the key to victories for McDermott Will & Emery in intellectual property work during 2013.

For example, the firm represented BlackBerry Ltd. in a trial in Texas defending three patents against an infringement allegation by Innovative Sonic Ltd., a nonpracticing entity. Major firms — Sidley Austin and Fish & Richardson — had worked with the mobile-phone maker on protecting its 3G wireless data technology patents. As the case headed to trial, McDermott stepped in with a different approach.

“We viewed it as a business case, and we really called into question the business motivations of the plaintiff,” said Sarah Chapin Columbia, McDermott’s IP litigation group leader. “I’m a trial lawyer. I’m not trained as a patent lawyer. Sometimes they get so focused on the patent issues, they lose focus on the story.”

Columbia found an unconventional team member in partner Russell Hayman, a litigator whose background is in white-collar defense. The team settled on a strategy of picking apart the transactions through which Innovative Sonic assembled itself and set about portraying the lawsuit as a “sham.”

The firm took the case to a jury trial in June. On the 10th day, just before closing arguments, the parties settled. McDermott represented BlackBerry on another patent case in March and won.

Among other patent cases last year, McDermott protected the University of Phoenix and Apollo Education Group Inc. from a $400 million infringement claim by Digital-Vending Services International LLC.

The firm also cleared electronics manufacturer Funai Electric Co. Ltd. in an International Trade Commission investigation following a patent infringement claim. In fact, in the first half of 2013, the IP team took four cases to trial. All resulted favorably for clients, Columbia said.


Year founded: 1934
Largest office: Chicago
Total attorneys: 1,093
IP partners: 87
IP associates: 69
Patent agents: 13