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In the history of Washington, D.C.-based Howrey Simon Arnold & White’s march into intellectual property, James Davis has a Zelig-like presence. In 1972 he joined what was then Howrey & Simon as the firm’s first IP lawyer. In 1999 he was one of the senior partners who helped arrange the acquisition of Houston’s Arnold, White & Durkee, a move that enlarged and anchored the firm’s IP presence. Today, at age 67, Davis is the firm’s oldest partner. Over lunch not long ago, Davis ruminated on the firm’s bet on IP long before it was so fashionable or flashy. Howrey Simon’s bet has paid off. In IP Worldwide‘s third annual “Who Protects IP America” survey, Davis’ firm came out on top. We asked the Fortune 250 to tell us who they view as their primary IP firms. More than half — 138 — of them responded. Of those, nearly one in 10 named Howrey Simon as one of their go-to IP firms. The second-place finishers, D.C.’s Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner and Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis, have been toiling at IP a long time, too. And so on down the list. We list every firm mentioned by at least three companies — and there’s hardly a parvenu on the page. Patents last for 20 years, and it seems to take at least that long to build up a robust IP practice. Finnegan Henderson has been in business since 1965, and Kirkland has been growing a substantial IP practice for nearly that long. In the 1990s, it was easy for firms to sell themselves as experts in Internet law — a discipline built on solid knowledge of copyright and contract, to be sure, but also mere chutzpah. It takes an abundance of cases, transactions, and time to build expertise, and, as a practice, Internet law lacked all three. Not so with IP law. As writer Chris Albritton lays out in “ You’re Hired,” general counsel are looking primarily for three things in an IP lawyer: experience, experience and experience. IP litigation often involves direct competitors fighting over the core assets of one company or another. Crippling injunctions and damage awards and even Chapter 11 are not out of the question for the losing party. IP is not a contest for the B-team. Related chart: Who Protects IP America

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