Less than a year after suing Germany’s Stolmár & Partner over a failed combination, intellectual property boutique RatnerPrestia has agreed to drop breach of contract, fraud and other claims against the Munich-based patent firm.
At one point, the two firms worked together on international IP issues affecting RatnerPrestia’s clients, but settlement papers filed Friday in a Philadelphia federal court put an end to a soured relationship. The agreement resolves allegations that the German firm’s leaders misled King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based RatnerPrestia during discussions of a possible merger between the two firms.
While RatnerPrestia and Stolmár & Partner had long shared client ties, the dispute between both firms traces its roots back to March 2014, when RatnerPrestia approached Stolmár & Partner name partner Matthias Stolmár about a potential combination. At the time, RatnerPrestia was looking to start an office in Munich to help clients with European patent issues and Stolmár signaled interest that he and his firm could become that Munich office, according to the suit.
RatnerPrestia said the two firms began formal discussions about a merger, also entering into a nondisclosure agreement. After several months of talks, Stolmár allegedly began to delay the combination of the two firms and started to withhold documents, even while still assuring RatnerPrestia that his firm intended to move forward with the transaction.
The prospective deal unraveled in 2015. RatnerPrestia’s suit alleges that early in that year, Stolmár secretly began separate discussions with a larger firm in Munich and, in May 2015, Stolmár for the first time told RatnerPrestia he wasn’t committed to a combination.
Despite Stolmár’s hesitation, discussions continued to move forward between RatnerPrestia and two other lawyers at Stolmár & Partner, Hansjorg Rembold and Fritz Wetzel. Talks also continued with Alexander Son, a lawyer who had his own practice in Munich, as well as a limited affiliation with Stolmár & Partner, according to the suit.
Those three lawyers all eventually agreed—and signed documents to confirm—that they would leave Stolmár’s firm and join RatnerPrestia, according to the suit. While Wetzel and Son did make the move to RatnerPrestia, which opened an office in Munich on Jan. 1, 2016, Rembold backed out in September 2015.
RatnerPrestia filed its suit in March 2016, alleging that Rembold breached the nondisclosure and other contractual agreements. The suit also accused Rembold and Stolmár of conspiring to dupe the American firm into believing they intended to go through with the combination, and alleged that Stolmár & Partner continued to list Son on its website even after he had cut ties with the German firm.
In response, Stolmár & Partner sought to have the case thrown out last July, arguing that the U.S. court had no jurisdiction over the German firm and its lawyers. On Friday, the two sides sent a letter to U.S. District Judge Joel Slomsky saying they had reached a settlement and agreement to dismiss the case.
RatnerPrestia shareholder Benjamin Leace, who represented his firm against Stolmár & Partner, did not immediately return a request for comment Monday.
In an email, Matthias Stolmár of his namesake firm referred a similar request to Philadelphia commercial litigator Peter Dolinger, a solo practitioner representing Stolmár & Partner in federal court. Dolinger was unavailable for comment by the time of this story.