Not only do the attorneys at Fenwick & West represent some of the world’s biggest tech companies such as Apple and Facebook, but their work with clients of all sizes last year helped shape the very landscape of intellectual property law.

Take the firm’s defense of online political forum Democratic Underground, the test case for the litigation business model of companies like Righthaven that had filed more than 200 copyright infringement lawsuits in Nevada looking for quick settlements. Righthaven had bought the copyrights from Las Vegas Review-Journal owner Stephens Media before pursuing defendants who had copied portions of the newspaper’s articles.

At stake: protecting free speech and the doctrine of fair use on the Internet.

In June, a federal judge agreed with the Fenwick litigation team of Laurence Pulgram, Jennifer Johnson, Cliff Webb and David Marty, tossing out the lawsuit because Righthaven had never received a valid assignment of the copyrights.

Partner Charlene Morrow said Fen­wick is one of the few general-practice firms with such a deep understanding of intellectual property issues, which helps the firm land a mix of clients from startups to Twitter — the firm handled the Internet giant’s first trademark infringement case. Fenwick filed a lawsuit against Twittad and obtained registration of the mark “Tweet” for Twitter. “That [mix of clients] makes us more nimble in terms of giving business advice,” Morrow said. “We have an ability to understand our client’s technology and business.”

Morrow handled litigation for Hewlett-Packard that dramatically improved how companies can defend themselves from patent trolls. She convinced the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that companies facing threats of patent infringement lawsuits should be able to file pre-emptive declaratory judgment complaints.

That new nationwide standard makes it easier for potential defendants to bring suit in the court of their choosing instead of waiting to be sued in a plaintiff-friendly court.

Fenwick also took on the federal government on behalf of hip-hop music blog, which was one of about 80 Web sites seized in late 2010 on accusations of misusing songs and other copyrighted material. In December the blog became the only one to get its site back. Partner Andrew Bridges said the Web site’s story played a role in blocking bills in Congress that would have limited fair use on the Internet.

“I think the story became an embarrassment to the initiative of seizing domains,” Bridges said.

— Todd Ruger