In 1980, Cooley Godward was one of the first San Francisco firms to open an office in Silicon Valley — four years before Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg was born. Ever since, the firm — now called Cooley — has ridden the booms and busts of the technology industry, and intellectual property has been key to its growth.

Cooley’s IP practice has more than doubled in size to 110 lawyers and 50 other professionals during the past 12 years. In 2011, it filed 986 U.S. and 300 foreign patent applications. In the past five years, Cooley has handled more than 250 patent assertion and defense cases. “It’s not happenstance,” said Frank Pietrantonio, the head of the firm’s IP section. “Our client base being technology focused…led Cooley over the years to really focus on developing an IP presence.”

Facebook has been a key client — and as its revenues have soared, it has increasingly become a target for patent suits. In 2010 Cooley helped the social networking site defeat a $100 million patent suit brought by Leader Technologies Inc. over data storage technology in the District of Delaware. The case is now on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The firm’s record also has been bolstered by recent wins for clients including Nvidia Corp. and Vistaprint Ltd.

After Intel Corp. hit Nvidia with a breach-of-contract suit arguing that the firm wasn’t licensed to manufacture chipsets compatible with Intel’s latest microprocessors, Cooley helped Nvidia turn the tables on Intel. Cooley filed a countersuit, arguing Intel was trying to eliminate Nvidia as a competitive threat. Last year, Intel capitulated, agreeing to pay Nvidia $1.5 billion over five years.

Vistaprint found itself in need of help after being sued for patent infringement by rival ColorQuick, which was seeking a permanent injunction against a Vistaprint online site that allowed customers to design business cards and brochures. Partner Thomas Friel Jr. and a team of Cooley lawyers helped win a rare defense jury verdict in the plaintiff-friendly Eastern District of Texas.

In the near future IP litigation is unlikely to slow as emerging social media and other tech firms intensify the battle over patents to their software, Pietrantonio said. “I feel very fortunate to have hit what I consider a golden era for IP in terms of how it’s been respected as an asset for companies,” he said.

— Jason McLure