Members of Axinn Veltrop’s Litigation team. ()
A Johnson & Johnson subsidiary sought to stop a manufacturer of spinal implants from violating its patents related to the technology. Fast action was needed. So the company turned to a Connecticut law firm that prides itself on getting results in federal courts across the country—Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider.
The firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of the subsidiary, DePuy Synthes Products, against Globus Medical Inc. in 2011, seeking damages for three claimed patent infringements. Last year, Axinn Veltrop convinced a Delaware federal court jury to award its client $16 million; Globus has appealed the ruling.
Because of the firm’s repeated success with federal litigation, Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider is being recognized by the Connecticut Law Tribune as the winner of the Litigation Department of the Year Award in the complex federal litigation category.
Axinn Veltrop, with offices in Hartford, New York City and Washington, D.C., was founded in 1997 by three former Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom lawyers. Since then, it has grown to 60 lawyers. The firm has used lateral hires and gradual expansion of the Washington office to strategically develop its antitrust, intellectual property and complex litigation practices, attracting clients ranging from footwear manufacturers to Google.
“Axinn can be described by what it is not,” said Thomas Rhoback, the litigation department chairman. “Axinn is not a large, general practice law firm with an army of associates in a pyramid structure. Axinn is a litigation boutique. The firm has experienced and sophisticated trial lawyers, a core of aggressive young partners and a small number of very bright associates drawn from the top talent pool nationwide.”
In other words, the firm is built for complex federal litigation on the national scale, handling cases from California to New York to Florida. “The whole firm is a litigation firm,” said managing partner James Veltrop. “Every lawyer here has trial experience; that’s the heart of the whole firm.”
IP and other federal cases can get quite complicated. The firm addresses that with a team approach. A senior partner is put in charge of the case; the partner then assigns highly technical issues to attorneys with particular expertise in those areas.
That approach, in turn, helps Axinn Veltrop’s lawyers make clear presentations in courtrooms. “You don’t want to get lost in the weeds with the technological stuff,” said Francis Morrison III, a Hartford lawyer who was a lead attorney in the Johnson & Johnson case. “You can’t try theses cases without people who understand the technology enough to make a clear presentation to the trier of fact, or here [in the spinal implant case], it was a jury.”
As its record shows, the firm is not afraid to prepare a case for trial, and has worked in many cases involving federal agencies. In January 2013, Axinn Veltrop resolved a case favorably for a client, Alvogen Inc., after intervening in an action brought against the FDA by the brand company over generic versions of an antibiotic drug.
The Axinn team successfully defended against the brand company’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction and prevailed in an intervenors’ motion to dismiss. The team also continued to represent Mega Brands, which had complained that U.S. Customs officials had halted imports of its toys. Axinn Veltrop in early 2012 got U.S. Customs and Border Protection to lift the import barrier.
Veltrop said the firm uses its nationwide knowledge of the courts to create leverage for their clients. In one case, the firm defended Travelers Insurance against a claim the insurer had violated state regulatory laws in New Mexico. The claim was brought in state court, but the firm’s lawyers managed to have the case moved to federal court, where Travelers won a motion to dismiss on seven of eight causes of action. “There was a general perspective that state court in New Mexico is not a good place for an complaint against an insurance company,” Rohback said.
In addition to continuing to work for firms such as Google, for which the firm served as an antitrust counsel during its $700 million acquisition of ITA Software Inc. in 2011, Axinn Veltrop in 2013 saw an increase in litigation business from pharmaceutical companies on a variety of issues, including efforts to secure Food and Drug Administration approvals for medication.
One of the cases that kept Morrison busy last year involved a contract dispute over the use of debit cards. He led Axinn Veltrop’s representation of Evolution 1, a company that provides debit cards to be used for out-of-pocket medical expenses. Evolution 1 had a contract with a benefit administrator, Flex-Plan services. When Flex-Plan sought to terminate the contract on short notice, Evolution 1 brought a breach-of-contract claim in federal court in Seattle.
While the debit card technology wasn’t complicated, the legal issues surrounding the contract and possible damages were. “We had to come up with an irrevocable harm argument, that our client was going to be harmed because it would not be able to collect what is called a swipe fee, for every time the card was not going to be used after the contract was violated,” Morrison said.
Morrison moved for a preliminary injunction, which prevented Flex-Plan from terminating the contract. “[The case] quickly settled, and the client was very pleased with the result,” Morrison said.•