The expected merger of Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz with Novak Druce + Quigg could create one of a handful of super-intellectual property boutiques at a time when patent work is at an all-time high.

The proposed merger, which Gregory Novak, managing partner of Novak Druce, on September 19 said was “almost assured,” would form Novak Druce Connolly Bove + Quigg, with about 125 lawyers and 15 patent agents and technical specialists in seven locations.

Both firms announced that their partners had voted to enter into exclusive merger discussions, with a deal expected to close by January 1 — as reported by NLJ affiliates Delaware Law Weekly and Texas Lawyer.

Novak Druce is based in Houston and Connolly Bove in Wilmington, Del. The firm would have additional offices in Cupertino, Calif.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Washington; and West Palm Beach, Fla.

“It’s the super-boutique model,” Novak said, addng that he and Jeffrey Bove hope to expand the combined firm to about 200 professionals within the next 18 months.

Such a move is to be expected in the current market, said Steve Nataupsky, managing partner of 265-attorney Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear, who predicted further consolidation of IP boutiques.

“I don’t think you’ll continue to see too many midsize firms of the size like these two,” Nataupsky said. “They’ll either combine or get swallowed up by general practice firms.”

Novak said that he expects the merger will pave the way for the combined firm to enter the same league as 265-attorney Knobbe; 370-attorney Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner; and 173-attorney Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto.

Novak Druce’s practice comprises about 60 percent patent prosecution and 40 percent litigation, Novak said. Connolly Bove is closer to 50-50, he said.

The merger would come as patent litigation has surged to an all-time high. The number of patent infringement filings shot up by 22 percent during 2011 compared with the year before, reaching the highest level ever recorded, according to a study released last week by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

With the popularity of the practice, the challenge for IP boutiques is hanging on to their trial attorneys, said Peter Zeughauser, chairman of Zeughauser Group, a law firm consultancy.

“The economics of the prosecution practice drag the firm’s profitability down to the point where they can’t afford to pay top patent trial lawyers anywhere near enough in the face of big, successful general practice firms,” he said. “The litigators get raided.”

Novak will serve as managing partner of the combined entity. Bove will serve as a senior partner at the firm with Donald Quigg.

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