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Big IP-specialty firms are consolidating and aggressively pursuing corporate intellectual property work. But there’s still plenty of that work to go around. And it’s being spread broadly, according to a new survey of large public companies. In the October/November issue of IP Worldwide (an American Lawyer affiliate), survey responses from 155 of the Fortune 250 indicate that top companies often farm out their IP litigation or counseling work to multiple law firms. Two hundred and twenty firms in all were listed by the respondents, who were asked which outside law firms they routinely rely on for litigation or counseling, in addition to the work they routinely handle in-house. That result may seem counterintuitive, given that the IP powerhouses and boutiques have every reason to try to get a lock on their clients’ IP business. But with the explosive growth of patent filings — especially as business-method patents gain popularity — and with companies increasingly using their patent portfolios more strategically and aggressively as revenue generators, there’s more IP work to be shared by a wide range of firms. Another possible trend hinted at by the survey may be that IP-specialist firms are leveraging their litigation practices in ways that pick up their clients’ business when it comes to counseling, patent prosecution, and licensing. The two firms with the most mentions in the IP Worldwide survey — Fish & Neave and Howrey Simon Arnold & White — each pursue a major litigation focus, but each also actively seeks IP-counseling clients. And of the top 10 firms mentioned as IP litigators, eight were also among the most-listed as IP counselors. Twenty-one firms were mentioned three or more times as a primary litigation firm; two-thirds of those 21 firms also made the list of 28 firms mentioned three or more times as primary counseling, licensing, and prosecution firms. Survey leaders Fish & Neave and Howrey may share this bifurcated approach to their IP practices, but they are radically different both in structure and in long-term strategy. New York-based Fish & Neave, a traditional partner-run law firm that handles such venerable clients as AT&T Corp. and Ford Motor Company as well as high-tech companies like Compaq Computer Corporation and Motorola, Inc., has resisted the temptation to grow by merger or acquisition. In contrast, Howrey, whose practice ranges from traditional IP-centered clients like Bayer Corporation and Monsanto Company to companies at the red-hot center of the new economy like Intel Corporation and Ericsson SpA, has been busy transfiguring itself into a twenty-first-century law firm. The firm, a product of a megamerger between Washington, D.C.’s Howrey & Simon and Houston’s Arnold White & Durkee, has just reorganized itself along corporate lines rather than as a traditional law partnership, with nonlawyer business managers playing key roles as the firm continues pursuing an aggressive expansion-by-acquisition policy. Although they top the lists, Fish & Neave and Howrey are by no means dominant. Fully eight other firms, not all of which are IP-centric, received eight or more mentions. These ranged from D.C’s Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner to Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis and Houston’s Baker Botts and Fulbright & Jaworski. General-practice firms made strong showings. Even relative IP newcomers such as New York’s Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Philadelphia’s Morgan, Lewis & Bockius did well in the IP counseling category, and Skadden’s IP litigation practice helped that firm crack the top 24 in total mentions. But the biggest surprise of the survey may be how widely spread the top companies’ IP work seems to be: Once you get past the IP powerhouses, several firms are tied with each other at every ranking level. While a survey of this sort can only hint at broader patterns and is not scientific (we don’t know, for example, if the respondents are representative of the 95 companies that didn’t respond), it does suggest that no matter how big the specialists get or how many large firms acquire IP boutiques, there’s still a lot of diversity and competition in the IP legal-services market. Related Chart: The Gang Of 24 Mike Godwin ([email protected]) is chief correspondent for IP Worldwide and author of “Cyber Rights: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age” (Times Books, 1998).

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