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About five years ago, Tower Snow Jr. went on a manhunt. The corporate department of Snow’s San Francisco-based firm, Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, was churning out deals for heavy-hitting technology clients such as Cisco Systems, Broadcom Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc. But Brobeck didn’t have the litigators to handle the IP work flowing out of all the mergers and IPOs. “Our IP department was anemic and we were losing work to other firms,” says Snow. “We really needed someone to spark and energize the group.” After a long search, Snow found his man: James Elacqua. Snow told Elacqua that the firm would give him “carte blanche” to build a nationally prominent IP practice. So Elacqua packed up his 20-year-old practice at Houston-based Arnold, White & Durkee and moved it to Brobeck. How has Elacqua done? Since 1997 the firm’s IP litigation group has grown from 14 to 90 attorneys. And last year Brobeck filed 24 patent cases on behalf of plaintiffs, more than any firm in the country, making it first on IP Worldwide‘s list of frequent filers. The firm placed 12th in firms appearing for the defense, and fourth overall. “Jim deserves a standing ovation,” says Snow. Elacqua built the department largely through lateral hiring. He pried partner Stephen Rosenman away from Howrey Simon’s San Francisco office, and beefed up Brobeck’s Austin office by landing Arnold White’s Wayne Harding and James Smith from Lexmark International Inc. But the biggest coup came early last year when Brobeck’s San Diego office nabbed 17 intellectual property litigators from the San Diego office of Los Angeles’ Lyon & Lyon. The defections gave Brobeck an instant stream of biotechnology and wireless communications work. Selling the firm to interested laterals hasn’t been hard for Elacqua. “Brobeck works with the leading technology companies,” he says. “I just tell people that it’s a natural place to look if you want to do cutting-edge IP work for the Ciscos of the world.” It’s a pitch that worked on Steve Korniczky, one of the Lyon & Lyon defectors. “Eighty or 90 percent of Brobeck’s clients traffic in high technology,” he says. “For patent attorneys, this is as close to heaven as it gets.” The influx of lawyers immediately led to more IP work from existing clients such as Cisco and Sun. But it also brought the firm business from high-flying companies looking for a firm that did more than your average IP boutique. “IP firms typically don’t do a lot of corporate work,” says Snow. “We do.” Brobeck has made the most of its patent opportunities. Although Brobeck filed the most plaintiff-side patent cases in 2000, half of the cases were filed on behalf of Directed Electronics, the maker of the Viper car alarm, who is suing unauthorized dealers around the country. The firm would rather be known for its defense work. “Plaintiffs’ stuff is only 30 to 35 percent of our practice,” says Elacqua. Will the good times continue to roll at Brobeck? The economy isn’t what it was two years ago. And already the flow of IP work from startup companies has trailed off a bit at firms nationwide. But patent work has a way of staying steady. “In slower times, companies are forced to try to maximize the value of their intellectual property,” says Elacqua. “So a downturn in the market doesn’t faze us.” Snow is looking beyond the current market woes. “Businesses will thrive or fail based on the strength of their technology,” he says. And if Brobeck is at the front of the pack 20 years from now, it just might know who to thank.

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