Private equity shops like Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., Blackstone and The Carlyle Group are pouring a seemingly endless flow of cash into deals — in total, U.S.-based firms spent $421.7 billion worldwide on mergers and acquisitions in 2006, according to data from Thomson Financial. A small but growing portion of that money is finding its way to intellectual property attorneys and strategists, as buyers recognize that the main assets changing hands in many of these deals are intangible. The need-it-yesterday pace of this transactional work opens the door to hidden IP dangers that may only come to light long after the deal is done. Lawyers don’t have the time to examine an IP portfolio very closely, and things might be missed. But in the meantime, the barbarians at the gate have discovered the importance of IP in their deals. Their needs are reshaping law firms, demanding a new breed of lawyer: the corporate IP attorney.

“There’s a huge field of practice that most people call IP corporate or IP transactional, which involves combining deep and credible IP skills with corporate,” says Edward Black, a partner in the corporate department of Ropes & Gray and co-head of the firm’s Fish & Neave IP Group. (Ropes & Gray acquired IP boutique Fish & Neave in 2005.) IP firms such as Fish & Richardson are hiring corporate attorneys, and general practice firms are devoting more IP attorneys to deal work, a practice that is shredding outdated stereotypes that contrasted the action-addicted personality of a deal lawyer with the science-wonk IP attorney. Black also points out that IP lawyers can no longer simply be divided into litigators or prosecutors. Corporate IP attorneys bring a combined skill set into play. “It’s everything you’d expect a big corporate attorney to know, but they also know IP, and they’re using all those tools around portfolio management,” he says.

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