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In 1995 Thomas Crisman was in India, halfway through a meditation retreat, when he found out that his law firm was splitting up. Crisman, who had been a partner at Dallas’ Johnson & Gibbs since 1987, did not panic. He left the decision about where his IP group would land to his colleagues and finished his retreat. When he came home several weeks later, he found that his entire IP department had moved to Dallas’ Jenkens & Gilchrist. How can a lawyer be so laid-back? Crisman, 60, credits meditation. “It’s been a cornerstone in my life,” he says. For the Texas-born litigator, meditation is as big a part of his trial preparation as brief-drafting. Crisman has been an IP specialist for more than 30 years. He’s best known for representing Swedish cell phone giant Ericsson Inc. in its patent dispute with InterDigital Communications Corp. He’s an unlikely candidate for the New Age meditative life. Crisman grew up near the oil fields of west Texas and spent his early days chopping cotton, digging ditches, and swamping out oil storage tanks. Neither of his parents had much formal education, but they pushed their son to succeed academically. Crisman entered Southern Methodist University intent on becoming a doctor. “[After] the first year of premed, I decided I didn’t have the compassion and love of humanity that a physician should have.” He changed his major to electrical engineering and graduated in 1965. For the next four years, Crisman worked as a patent agent in Washington, D.C., first with General Electric Co. and later with Bell Laboratories. He attended law school at Georgetown University at night. After he received his law degree in 1969, he returned to Texas and joined the Dallas IP firm Richard, Harris & Hubbard. He went out on his own three years later. Crisman was a solo practitioner by day, and taught patent law at night at SMU’s law school. There he met Stanley Moore, an SMU student just five years his junior. The two formed Crisman & Moore in the late 1970s and have worked together ever since. By the mid-1970s Crisman’s law practice was burgeoning, but he wasn’t doing well personally. “I was slipping into a number of bad lawyer–like habits like drinking too much,” he says. “I was one of those lawyers who tended to get mad and then get even.” A friend suggested meditation, and after Crisman took his first course, he discovered that “it was something I had been looking for all my life,” he says. In the early 1980s, Crisman attended a Vipassana meditation class taught in Chicago by S.N. Goenka. Afterwards, Crisman returned to India with Goenka to study. He stayed for four months, and at one point told his teacher that he was considering quitting the legal life, because it wasn’t a healthy way to make a living. Goenka disagreed and told Crisman that he could make a difference by helping people. So Crisman returned and cut his practice commitment in half, spending six months of each year in India. His half-year sojourns ended in 1987, when his firm merged with Dallas’ Johnson & Swanson. “We started a big IP group, and I would just work my tail off.” That’s when he picked up Ericsson as a client. The Swedish company had established its U.S. headquarters in Plano, Texas, a Dallas suburb, and had just started a patent program. He brought Ericsson over to Jenkens & Gilchrist in 1995. The litigation started up in Dallas federal court in 1993, when InterDigital sued Ericsson for infringing eight patents used in cellular communication. InterDigital is demanding royalties from Ericsson’s sales dating back to the early 1990s. InterDigital, once a tiny company, has a $587 million market cap and enough moxie to go after Alcatel, Siemens AG, and Motorola AG for infringement. In 1995 Motorola won its patent with InterDigital in Delaware federal court. Crisman thought that Ericsson’s case with InterDigital was about to be settled, until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found some InterDigital patent claims valid in the Motorola case. Ericsson and InterDigital are now in mediation. That’s mediation, not meditation. In 1997 Crisman cut back his practice, moving from partner to of counsel status. He needed the time to teach meditation and run his Vipassana meditation center near Dallas, with his wife Tina. He’s committed to staying with the practice at least until the Ericsson case is resolved.

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