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In the film “Apocalypse Now,” Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore boasts, “Charlie don’t surf.” Neither does Ben Katz. But that didn’t stop the 34-year-old IP lawyer, a third-year associate at Greenberg Traurig in Los Angeles, from wanting a surfboard just like the one used in one of the movie’s most memorable scenes. In that scene, Kilgore orders a napalm strike on an enemy-controlled beach to make it safe for surfing. After the bombs are dropped, Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, utters the classic line, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” “When I saw the rereleased version of the film in 2001,” says Katz, who was born and raised in New York City and has never been near a surfboard, “I wanted to hang the board in my office to remind me that there’s lunacy when you practice law, but there’s always a way to achieve your objective.” The problem was that no such board existed. The surfboard in the film looked authentic, bearing the name Yater, a well-known surfboard maker. But Katz learned that when director Francis Ford Coppola made the film in 1979, he just slapped the Yater name and logo on Kilgore’s T-shirt and surfboard, neglecting to obtain permission from the company. That’s where Katz’s IP instincts kicked in. He told Yater Surfboards that suing Coppola and his company, American Zoetrope, would be a costly undertaking. But why not get Coppola to give Yater permission to make a limited edition board like Kilgore’s? If the company would allow a few boards to be sold at auction to raise money for charity, Katz would work pro bono. Yater readily agreed. But persuading Coppola to give Yater the right to use the surfboard design wasn’t easy. The director doesn’t typically do any product licensing from his films. And Coppola’s outside counsel were not helpful. “Clearly, the attorneys believed I wanted to sue the company for copyright infringement,” says Katz. Katz took another route. He convinced Giselle Galper, the in-house counsel for Coppola’s company, that Yater had helped Coppola create a bit of history and that this project could be his way of paying back the company and helping a good cause. “She got it,” he says. Katz also received help from John Milius, who wrote the original “Apocalypse Now” screenplay. Milius contacted Coppola directly. He also persuaded Martin Sheen, who starred in the film, to sign the boards to be auctioned. Those boards are expected to go for about $20,000 each. Lisa Shuchman is a freelance writer in New York City. This article originally appeared in IP Law & Business , an ALM publication.

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