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A firefighter with the Los Angeles Fire Department was surfing eBay a few months ago when he came across an extraordinary find: a genuine L.A. fire chief’s badge and helmet. The fire department didn’t have to scramble to find a lawyer to stop the sale of its property. It has its own in-house counsel devoted to intellectual property matters at the Los Angeles city attorney’s office. The 250-attorney office didn’t pay much attention to IP until former entertainment attorney Rockard “Rocky” Delgadillo was elected to head the office in 2001. A former senior attorney at O’Melveny & Myers, Delgadillo spent years focusing on IP matters for clients like the Walt Disney Co. He once won trademark rights to the term “threepeat” for an associate of Lakers coach Pat Riley. Delgadillo has transferred that IP awareness to the city attorney’s office, where 16 months ago he created a three-person IP unit. “In the information age, there’s valuable property that is intangible, and we are going to take it seriously and protect it as any other property,” Delgadillo said. In the case of the filched fire gear, that meant taking quick action. With just three hours before bidding was due to close, the head of the IP unit, Philip Lam, raced to contact eBay. He ran an obstacle course of recorded messages to reach a company representative, whom he persuaded to call off the sale. “We now have a working relationship with eBay,” Lam said. “It’s kind of like a hotline.” Lam has handled a slew of IP issues, from filing trademark, patent and copyright applications to going after vendors selling counterfeit LAPD badges. In the past few years, the city has built up its IP portfolio. Prior to 2001, it had 12 trademark applications pending. Now, it has 75 trademark registrations or applications in progress. As of last year, the city held three patents and no copyrights. Lam’s unit has filed six additional patent applications and copyrighted three books, including “Landmark L.A.,” edited by the Cultural Affairs Department. In its first year of operation, the IP unit secured $70,000-$80,000 in contracts with other cities, book publishers and others using its patents and trademarks. The office says, in the future, it has the potential to generate millions from its IP. Los Angeles isn’t the only city to keep an eye on IP. The San Francisco city attorney’s office has three attorneys who work on intellectual property matters. And New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg formed a marketing office last year to license the city’s IP and prevent misuse of city logos. Yet, when it comes to IP advice, many cities look to Los Angeles. Lam now gets weekly calls from officials in the U.S. and Canada wondering how to protect their burgs’ intellectual property. One of the questions they ask is how to handle the use of their marks on TV shows. Delgadillo’s office, eager to bring more movie business to the city, is flexible in granting studios access to the fire and police departments. “We negotiate appropriate rights or an agreement that they not disparage the image of the city,” Delgadillo said. “We also respect their First Amendment right to deal with things like the Rampart scandal.” While the city pulls in revenue from the use of its marks and Tinseltown backdrop, it’s also put together a portfolio of practical patents. Take the electrical leaf blower that engineers at the Water & Power Dept. created in response to an uprising among gardeners. Several years ago, the city council announced it was going to ban leaf blowers because of the noise and pollution they created. Gardeners went on a hunger strike at City Hall to protest the move, prompting the engineers to create a quiet blower that runs without gasoline. The department’s engineers also developed technology that, in the event of an underground explosion, would prevent manhole covers from flying through the air. Last year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a patent on the device, which has since been licensed in Canada. Sometimes the city gives away the use of its inventions. The fire department, for instance, gives to other city fire departments a device that it created to determine the direction and timing of brush fires. In addition to patenting inventions and obtaining trademarks, Lam also goes after infringers. Last year, he confiscated 100 counterfeit LAPD badges offered for sale by an online vendor in Columbus, Ohio. Lam convinced the vendor’s lawyer that the phony badges were harmful to the public’s safety, and the vendor agreed to stop selling them. Lam’s group is also in negotiations with another vendor of counterfeit badges, based in Spokane, Wash. A one-time engineer at McDonnell Douglas, Lam joined the city attorney’s office nine years ago and until recently handled antitrust cases primarily. He was thinking of going into private practice when Delgadillo asked him to launch the IP unit. “This is by far the best job I could wish for,” Lam said. “It’s exciting in that it is revolutionary for the city and municipality to begin to pay attention to intellectual property.”

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