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In the film Apocalypse Now, Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore boasts, “Charlie don’t surf.” Neither does Ben Katz. But that didn’t stop the 34-year-old IP lawyer, a third-year associate at Greenberg Traurig in Los Angeles, from wanting a surfboard just like the one used in one of the movie’s most memorable scenes. In the scene, Kilgore orders up a napalm strike on an enemy-controlled beach so it will be safe for surfing. Shortly after the bombs are dropped, Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, utters the classic line, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” “When I saw the rereleased version of the film in 2001,” says Katz, who was born and raised in New York City and has never been near a surfboard, “I wanted to hang the board in my office to remind me that there’s lunacy when you practice law but there’s always a way to achieve your objective.” The problem was that no such board existed. The surfboard in the film looked authentic, bearing the name Yater, a well-known, family-run surfboard maker. But Katz quickly learned that when director Francis Ford Coppola made the film in 1979, he just slapped the Yater name and logo on Kilgore’s T-shirt and surfboard, neglecting to obtain permission from the company. That’s where Katz’s IP instincts kicked in. He told Yater Surfboards that suing Coppola and his company, American Zoetrope, would be a costly, David and Goliath undertaking. But he had another idea. Why not get Coppola to give Yater permission to make a limited edition board that looks like Kilgore’s? If the company would allow a couple of the boards to be sold at auction to raise money for charity, Katz would do the work pro bono. Yater readily agreed. But convincing Coppola to give Yater the right to use the surfboard design wasn’t easy. The director doesn’t typically do any product licensing from his films. And when Katz first approached Coppola’s outside counsel, the response was negative and hostile. “Clearly, the attorneys believed I wanted to sue the company for copyright infringement,” says Katz. Realizing his request was going nowhere, Katz took another route. He connected with Giselle Galper, the in-house counsel for Coppola’s company, and convinced her that in a small way Yater had helped Coppola create a bit of history and that this project could be his way of paying back the company and helping a good cause. “She got it,” he says. “If it hadn’t been for her, it probably wouldn’t have worked.” (Galper wasn’t available for comment.) Katz also sought and received help from John Milius, who wrote the original “Apocalypse Now” screenplay. Milius ran interference for Katz, contacting Coppola directly to explain the project. He also convinced Martin Sheen, who starred in the film, to sign the boards to be auctioned. Those boards are now expected to go for about $20,000 each. (The surfboards are hanging in the lobby of Greenberg’s L.A. office. But Katz still doesn’t have one. He’s hoping Yater will give him one as a gift for his pro bono work. If not, he’ll buy one.) Milius came up with the perfect charity to benefit from the auction — an Outward Bound program that helps veterans recover from post-traumatic stress disorder, founded by Col. Robert Rheault, who commanded the Green Berets in Vietnam. Milius has said he loosely based the character of Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando, on Rheault, an erudite, multilingual West Point graduate who was charged in 1969 with murdering a Vietnamese citizen employed by the Army who Rheault believed was a double agent. The charges against Rheault were later dropped, but his career was ruined and he retired from the military. Daniel Ellsberg has said that Rheault’s case prompted him to leak the Pentagon Papers. Jeff Scott, a partner in Greenberg’s L.A. office, who authorized the project, says the firm is using Katz’s case “to encourage attorneys in the firm who have a passion about something to pursue it.”

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