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Lawyers at Fish & Richardson, which placed first overall on IP WorldWide‘s survey of the most active patent litigators and first among defense counsel, say they owe part of their success to a simple scheduling rule — every Thursday, the patent prosecutors and the litigators meet to talk over cases and issues. The meeting, which is held by videoconferencing among the Boston, Washington, D.C., San Diego, Silicon Valley, Dallas, Delaware, and Twin Cities offices, helps bridge the gap between the lawyers who write patents and those who defend or challenge them. What’s more, says John Gartman, managing partner of the San Diego office, the weekly meetings help the firm bond in ways that few other national law firms can manage. “We’re so tight in that respect,” Gartman says. “We really know each other’s capabilities.” “We try to get the prosecutors tied in with the litigators,” says Ruffin Cordell, a litigator with the Washington, D.C., office. “It really is a nice synergy.” William Marsden, who heads the Delaware office, says that the weekly conferences also ease the obstacles to pulling together a multi-office firm with 220-plus lawyers. (The firm’s growth has exploded from just 25 lawyers in 1987.) Another big help in bringing lawyers together is e-mail. Lawyers “query one another about knotty legal problems,” he says, and engage in “a healthy and incredibly energetic dialog across the firm on cutting-edge issues in litigation and prosecutions.” Clients “appreciate that kind of collective experience,” says Marsden, who was lured away from the Wilmington-based Potter Anderson & Corroon in 1999 to start Fish’s Delaware office. “They’re not being billed for it, but they’re getting the benefit of 200 lawyers across the country.” And the firm’s patent expertise runs deep. “Almost all of our lawyers are admitted to the [U.S. Patent and Trademark Office], even the litigators,” Cordell says. About 40 members of the firm have Ph.D.s in technical fields. Fish’s national expertise works for plaintiffs too. (The firm tied for fourth place for firms filing patent suits.) For example, when client Seachange, a company specializing in video-on-demand server technology, sued nCube (a company with a similar product, backed by Larry Ellison) in Delaware court, the judge offered the parties at the end of the preliminary-injunction hearing the opportunity for an accelerated trial. Both sides accepted. The case was tried only a little over two months after the injunction hearing. This required a lot of discovery, “done in hurry,” says Marsden. Fish staffed the case with lawyers from several offices, including Silicon Valley and Boston, he says. (The jury decided in favor of Seachange in September.) Two of the big defense cases the firm has handled recently may have a major effect on the future of the Internet. In both cases, the plaintiffs were companies that had been spun out of Ma Bell. In one case, Bellcore, formerly a research arm of the Bell System and later the research company for the regional Bells, sued FORE Systems (which later became Marconi Communications) over networking technology patents. In the other case, Bell Atlantic sued Covad Communications over patents relating to DSL (digital subscriber line) technology, which is used to provide end-users with high-speed connections to the Internet. In each case, what was at stake was the ownership of core Internet technology. And in both cases, Fish & Richardson, representing the defendants, won handily. Bellcore v. FORE was listed by The National Law Journal, an American Lawyer Media affiliate of IP Worldwide, as one of the biggest defense victories of 2000. Another plus is that for over a century the firm’s specialty has been intellectual property. The firm shares its heritage with the “other IP Fish” — New York’s Fish & Neave. The firm, founded in the days of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison (who happened to be firm clients), was originally known as Fish, Richardson & Neave. The firm’s Boston and New York offices had operated with separate client bases since 1895, when Charles Neave was sent from Boston to open the New York office. And it was the firm’s first New York office that became Fish & Neave when the offices split in 1969. But despite a vaunted history, the firm’s management is young. The management committee is staffed by mostly lawyers age “40 or younger,” says Gartman of the San Diego office. “Our firm is very creative, and we are not afraid to make mistakes,” he says. “We broke the mold of the old, stodgy law firm.”

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