As if Elon Musk needed any more hype this summer.

The PayPal cofounder, who has been referred to in some circles as the “ 21st century industrialist” and the world’s “ most badass CEO,” has already been riding high as of late thanks to the strong performance of Tesla Motors.
When shares in the electric car company cofounded by Musk spiked in value this spring, his net worth, already estimated by Forbes at $2.7 billion, ticked up another $2.9 billion, with Bloomberg pegging his fortune this month at $7.7 billion.
On Monday, Musk put forth his proposal for a “ Hyperloop,” a mode of high-speed transportation to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco that he claims can be built for a fraction of the $68 billion cost already earmarked for a “bullet train” between the two cities that is mired in construction delays.
The Hyperloop, says Musk, is a viable alternative because it is cheaper and faster than other forms of transportation. Designs for the Hyperloop, which essentially functions by moving capsules within an enclosed steel tube at just beneath the speed of sound, were worked on by Musk and employees of Tesla and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).
The Am Law Daily reported last year on Cooley’s work for SpaceX, a space transportation company started by Musk in 2002, which is the first private entity to successfully launch a cargo delivery rocket into space. (Box office blockbuster Iron Man 2 was filmed at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California—one of the reasons Musk has been compared to Tony Stark.)
Cooley is no stranger to projects for Musk, but it was the firm’s work for SpaceX that led it to the Hyperloop. Brendan Hughes, an associate with Cooley in Washington, D.C., filed a trademark application for the method of intercity transportation on August 10, according to records on file with the Patent and Trademark Office.
Andrew Lustig, head of Cooley’s mid-Atlantic business technology group, is leading a team of lawyers from the firm’s offices in Reston, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., advising SpaceX on the Hyperloop project. He declined to comment when contacted by The Am Law Daily.
The idea of a Hyperloop system based on pneumatic tubes is not necessarily new, and Musk’s proposal has already collected its share of critics, some of whom liken it to nothing more than a pipe dream. (And then there are the late night comedians and others who jest that the Hyperloop will run on human screams; Musk claims the design is perfectly safe.)
At least one lawyer from Cooley—the firm would not allow its lawyers to be interviewed about their work for Musk—believes that its deep-pocketed client is without peer.
“Elon is a true visionary and great American industrialist, showing time and again that he can bring to the commercial markets what initially strikes the more ordinary amongst us as pure science fiction,” said a statement by Cooley litigation partner Michael Rhodes in San Diego.
Rhodes, who once chaired Cooley’s national litigation department and served on the firm’s management committee, represented Musk and Tesla in a high-profile defamation suit brought by former CEO Martin Eberhard that eventually settled in late 2009.
For now, Musk has put the Hyperloop on the backburner as he focuses on running Tesla and SpaceX. Auto industry giant General Motors is studying Tesla’s innovative success, and SpaceX, once a takeover target for Boeing and Lockheed Martin, is envisioned by Musk to eventually become a driving force in space travel.
Musk, who has said publicly that he’s no fan of patents, especially for SpaceX, has published his designs for the Hyperloop as open source. But that’s not to say Musk doesn’t fight to protect his IP.
In June, Tesla filed a patent infringement suit over technology that allows the company to control the temperature of its solar-powered cars, according to sibling publication The Recorder. Tesla is handling the litigation in-house, even though the Palo Alto–based company has not named a new legal chief following the resignation of former general counsel Eric Whitaker late last year.
Tim Hughes serves as general counsel for SpaceX and former Cooley corporate partner Michael Jacobson has been the longtime general counsel of online auctioneer eBay, which helped Musk make his fortune by acquiring PayPal in a $1.5 billion deal in 2002. Kirkland & Ellis and Sullivan & Cromwell shunted aside Cooley and got the lead advisory roles on that transaction, according to a story at the time by The Recorder.
Cooley has competition when it comes to doing work for Musk and his various entities. U.S. Senate records show that K&L Gates has handled federal lobbying work for both Tesla and SpaceX, the latter of which is relying on a robust lobbying team as it seeks lucrative government contracts, according to sibling publication The Blog of Legal Times. (SpaceX won a three-satellite contract from a Canadian company earlier this month and this week tested a new rocket prototype.)
Musk himself is quite accustomed to large legal bills.
The billionaire’s messy divorce in 2010 from his first wife, Canadian novelist Justine Musk, was the subject of magazine feature stories and CNBC specials. The case eventually settled, although not before The New York Times and other news outlets obtained copies of Musk’s financial records, which appeared to show him straining under the pressure of paying both his and his ex-wife’s attorneys. Musk subsequently sought to publicly correct the record about the proceedings.
Bruce Clemens of Beverly Hills–based Jaffe and Clemens represented Musk in his first divorce, according to records on file with the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Musk divorced his second wife, English actress Talulah Riley, last year, but the two have reportedly since reconciled.