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They’re fast, furious � and very lucrative. The accelerated patent cases before the International Trade Commission can bring in $8 million to $10 million in billings for trial work that lasts less than a year, lawyers say. So, it’s no surprise that as the number of cases increase, big Am Law 100 firms are building out their ITC groups to capitalize on a practice that was once the province of IP firms with a lock on the commission’s hometown, Washington, D.C. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati is the latest big firm to beef up its ITC efforts. On Monday, the firm will add Stefani Shanberg, a Perkins Coie partner with ITC experience, in Palo Alto. Earlier this month, retired ITC judge Sidney Harris joined the firm in Washington, D.C. “What’s happened is that the ITC has become a much more popular forum,” said Michael Ladra, a Palo Alto partner and leading ITC lawyer for Wilson. “Because it’s become more significant and because it’s a significant part of our practice, it’s an area that we wanted to build up.” The ITC is a federal agency that can take actions against unfair cross-border trade practices like patent infringement. Clients increasingly see it as a quick and powerful tool to enforce patents, lawyers say, and the numbers bear them out. In 2002, the commission accepted 17 IP cases. In 2006, that number shot up to 34 and so far this year, it has already accepted 22, according to the ITC Web Site. Although the commission is in the nation’s capital, California firms say they’re perfectly situated for the practice because many companies involved in the disputes are from either Asia or Silicon Valley. “Bay Area firms are poised between the ITC and Asia,” said Michael Plimack, who co-leads Heller Ehrman’s IP litigation practice. Last fall, Heller added Sturgis Sobin, an ITC lawyer from Miller & Chevalier, in D.C. In February, the firm added two more ITC lawyers from D.C. firms. “A number of us have tried cases in the ITC, but what we were finding was that there was a small group of inside-the-beltway individuals that were very experienced with the ITC,” Plimack said. “There were instances where we lost out to local counsel. � Now the hope is that we’ll be getting more of those cases.” Since the hires, Heller has seen an uptick in ITC work, Plimack said, adding that the firm is currently working on a couple of cases and is in trial representing Emine Technology Co. Another San Francisco firm, Townsend and Townsend and Crew, just opened a new office in D.C. at the beginning of July, and the midsized IP firm said an ITC practice will be part of its offering there. CHALLENGE(R)S Firms that have focused on ITC work for a long time, like national IP firm Fish & Richardson or IP-focused McDermott, Will & Emery, say getting into the practice isn’t just as simple as hiring a couple of lawyers. “It’s the kind of thing where you can’t make a halfhearted effort,” said Vera Elson, a McDermott partner who heads the firm’s IP practice in Silicon Valley. “It’s a hard thing to dabble in.” Firms have to be able to quickly assemble large teams of IP lawyers as the full-blown cases are crammed into a strict and extremely short time frame, Elson said. McDermott usually has a couple of cases going in the Silicon Valley office and “quite a few” in Washington, D.C., at any given time, she added. Wilson Sonsini’s Ladra said his firm, known for its corporate practice, also has the necessary IP resources for ITC cases. The firm is getting ready for two of them � for tech company PMC-Sierra Inc. and for Crocs Inc., maker of the trendy plastic clogs. “They are people-intensive cases, so obviously you have to have a large enough group,” Ladra said. “We have some 80 or so IP lawyers that can be deployed.” That’s part of the reason Shanberg decided to leave Perkins for Wilson, where she once was an associate. “I had support to grow the ITC practice at Perkins,” she said. “But there were just many more pieces already in place at Wilson.” While large companies usually initiate the expensive ITC actions, Ladra said their actions affect tech companies large and small. For the most part, Wilson has been defending clients against claims. “ITC is a big part of life for high-tech companies,” he said. IP recruiter Katherine Patterson of Patterson Davis Consulting said she gets requests “all the time” for ITC lawyers. She said Wilson is smart to build the practice. “A firm like Wilson that has a very strong corporate department is absolutely correct in viewing ITC as an important part of their corporate practice,” she said. Still, Fish & Richardson’s Ruffin Cordell, a D.C. partner who has done ITC work for decades, said the ITC’s peculiarities can present challenges: hard and fast deadlines, mountains of briefs to be filed and responded to at unusual speed, and marathon hearings. Yar Chaikovsky, a Silicon Valley IP lawyer who co-heads Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal’s Silicon Valley office, said solid effort and aggressive recruiting can help firms learn the ropes. “I think, to some extent, the mystery of the ITC has been somewhat removed,” he said, “and it’s been discovered that it’s a pretty much just a different venue for patent litigation, although there are some differences.”

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