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Hewlett-Packard Company’s Jeffery Fromm is one of a dying breed: a company man. The 58-year-old patent lawyer has spent close to his entire career at HP, starting as an engineer in the company’s standards and measurement department. Earlier this year, Fromm stepped into the position of HP’s deputy general counsel and director of intellectual property, capping a career there that has spanned decades, multiple departments, two professions and even a premature retirement. Fromm first went to work for HP in June 1970, fresh from engineering school at the University of Pennsylvania. HP’s founders, William Hewlett and David Packard, still headed the company, and the personal computer existed only in the dreams of a few forward-thinking engineers. But after HP debuted the first handheld scientific calculator, a precursor to the PC, home computers took a big step closer to reality and Fromm’s engineering skills became increasingly outdated. He found himself at a crossroads: Either refresh his technical skills or pick a new line of work. Fromm pondered the idea of becoming a dentist. “My wife said, ‘You must be out of your mind. You’re going to go to med school?’ ” he remembers with a laugh. Instead of fighting plaque, Fromm enrolled in an HP program that paid for law school. And much to his wife’s frustration, his schedule ended up being almost as hectic as that of any medical student. Fromm spent days working at HP and nights at Widener University School of Law in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was a tiring schedule, particularly with two small sons at home. “ It’s not something I’d consider for the faint of heart,” says Fromm. “You better be sure you and your wife have a good relationship.” In 1981, with the marriage firmly intact, the family moved from Pennsylvania to Northern California, where Fromm joined HP’s legal department. At first, he mostly worked on patent preparation and prosecution. But as the company’s PC business grew, so did the need for a licensing program. “A lot of the ground rules we take for granted today about collaborations between competitors and standards for interoperability were being formed,” he says. Fromm led HP’s licensing during this period, developing the early legal frameworks for interoperability. Fromm’s work on standards was one of his biggest contributions to the company, says Stephen Fox, who oversaw Fromm’s work when he headed the company’s IP department. Under Fromm’s guidance, HP, along with IBM, Apollo Computer (later bought by HP), Hitachi Inc., and others formed the standards group Open Source Foundation (now known as The Open Group), to encourage cooperation across the industry. “It’s difficult for strong competitors to trust each other enough to build linkages so their computers can talk to each other,” Fromm says. The OSF group acted as an umbrella organization for the companies. His work attracted attention outside the company as well. In 2002 Fromm testified before the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department’s antitrust division about patent pools and cross-licensing. Fromm’s next big project: dividing the patents involved in the $8 billion spinoff of HP’s test and measurement business, Agilent Technologies Inc. in 1999. It was a complex job, says Fromm, because the two companies were completely integrated. Agilent accounted for 16 percent of HP’s sales. “We were splitting out an IP portfolio for a company that was nearly 50 years old,” he says. Agilent was good practice for an evern larger HP project: the $19 billion acquisition of rival Compaq Computer Corporation. Sorting out the IP issues in that purchase was so consuming that once it was completed in May 2002, Fromm accepted a voluntary retirement package. “I just needed a break,” he says. Fromm moved to Breckenridge, Colorado, but quickly grew restless. “You can only work on your golf game and skiing so much,” he says. After three months he was doing some patent portfolio management as a solo practitioner. Getting clients was easy once he tapped into the extended HP network. He quickly picked up work from HP, Agilent and Avago Technologies Inc., an Agilent spinoff. The more challenging aspect of solo life was the lack of legal and administrative support. “For the first time in my life I really understood accounts receivable,” he says. Feeling a bit isolated, Fromm rejoined the HP clique. A call to HP’s antitrust lawyer, Robert Skitol, a partner at Drinker, Biddle & Reath, led to an of counsel position with the firm. At Drinker, he brushed up on his somewhat rusty litigation skills to work on infringement cases. “There nothing like sitting down and writing a brief again after 20 years to remind yourself of how to be a lawyer,” says Fromm. Two years later, HP itself beckoned again. He’d heard from friends that Fox had also taken an early retirement package. Not long after, Fromm made another call, this time to Ann Baskins, HP’s general counsel, who had come up through the ranks with Fromm. Despite the tight connections, the company still interviewed several candidates to replace Fox. “I recommended several people, and he was one of them,” says Fox, who now serves as of counsel at Foley & Lardner, “Jeff won it, and I think he deserved it.” A big chunk of Fromm’s job will be focused on expanding HP’s patent portfolio. In 2005 the Patent and Trademark Office awarded HP 1,797 patents, placing the company third, behind IBM (2,941 patents) and Canon Kabushiki Kaisha (1,828 patents). “We’re not going to have a system as extensive as IBM’s,” he says. Still, HP hopes to increase its filings. Some 30 outside firms are currently work with HP’s 150 patent lawyers, according to Fromm. Drinker Biddle, not too surprisingly, will continue to get a piece of the patent pie. “They did it before I came,” says Fromm, “and they’ll do it after I leave.” Lisa Lerer writes for IP Law & Business, an ALM publication affiliated with GC California.

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