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It took a team of superhero copyrights and trademarks to rescue Marvel Comics from the challenges of bankruptcy. Since the company emerged from Chapter 11 in 1998, it has made an impressive comeback on Wall Street, rising from the reaches of penny-stock land in early 2001 to nearly $30 per share in the last quarter of 2003. The revival was due largely to IP licensing, says Allen Lipson, Marvel’s president, CEO and general counsel. In particular, such Marvel characters as the Hulk, Spider-Man and the X-Men have found new life in the movies, with Spidey becoming by far Marvel’s most profitable character. While Marvel owns the rights to about 4,700 characters, many of them have not been seen on the silver screen. Captain America, for example, only recently emerged from the binding ropes of litigation. Joe Simon, a former Marvel Comics creator, sued the company in 1999 to regain possession of the Captain America character. The case settled this year, with Simon agreeing to give Marvel his copyright interests in the character. During the company’s bankruptcy, Lipson, former chief executive Peter Cuneo and other company executives decided to change Marvel’s focus to licensing. Once that decision was made the rest was easy. “Licensing is not rocket science,” says Lipson says. “It [requires] being very methodical [and identifying] the top [licensing] partners.” Since 1998, Marvel has increased the number of non-lawyer employees focused on finding and negotiating licensing deals. Marvel’s international licensing is handled through foreign sales agents. Marvel has also bulked up its legal staff. “When I first started,” says Lipson, “I was the only lawyer and the legal department [had only] four [people].” Today the department has five lawyers, including two who handle licensing, and two paralegals. Except for litigation, which is handled by Paul Hastings and Kenyon & Kenyon in New York, and O’Donnell & Shaeffer on the West Coast, legal work is handled in-house. Marvel’s recent success has also fueled a self-reinforcing upward cycle. “When we first came out of bankruptcy. . .we had to convince people to come to us,” says Lipson. “Today a lot of [potential partners] are coming to us” on their own. Gil Lahav is a freelance writer in New York City who contributes to various American Lawyer Media publications.

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