Glen Weinstein, general counsel of iRobot Corp. ()
Most people are familiar with iRobot Corp. through its line of home-cleaning robots: The ubiquitous Roomba vacuum is the most popular robot in the world.
But the Bedford, Mass., technology company does more than help keep your home dirt-free. For more than a decade, iRobot has supplied the U.S. Department of Defense and other countries with bomb-disposal robots (think “The Hurt Locker”), and the company has branched out into remote-presence technology for hospitals and business meetings.
All of which means that the iRobot, which generated $500 million in revenue in 2013, has some pretty hefty intellectual property needs. The four-attorney legal department leans heavily on outside counsel to protect its innovations, general counsel Glen Weinstein said. In fact, the company owns upwards of 550 patents worldwide, 264 of them in the United States. In February, the Patent Board recognized iRobot for having one of the top patent portfolios in the electronics industry. Aggressively protecting those innovations is one of the legal department’s key strategies, Weinstein said, and intellectual property is the single largest area of the department’s spending.
“We take our patent portfolio quite seriously,” Weinstein said. “It’s one of the tools we have to maintain our competitive mode. It’s our primary tool.”
Finding outside counsel to help meet those intellectual property needs isn’t always easy, given that the company needs IP attorneys who understand each component of the robotics field: electrical, mechanical and software. Plenty of IP attorneys have experience in one or two of those areas, but relatively few have a strong grasp of all three, Weinstein said.
That’s why iRobot tends to maintain long-standing relationships with outside counsel who understand not only the products but also the company’s business vision. For instance, the bulk of iRobot’s IP work is handled by Fish & Richardson, and the company stuck with standout Fish & Richardson associates who later moved on to other firms.
“When you have a large portfolio of pending patents, there has to be an efficient way of making decisions,” said James Babineau, a principal at Fish & Richardson who has worked on iRobot matters since 1999. Babineau said that at least one of the firm’s attorneys from the Boston office will visit iRobot once a month. “Everyone is focused and we’re able to plow through a lot of substantive legal decisions,” Babineau said.
While the company generally remains loyal to outside counsel — including attorneys at Goodwin Procter for corporate matters and Jones Day for government-contracts work — Weinstein isn’t afraid to move his legal spending around to cut costs or gain better client service. Last year, he fired the firm handling iRobot’s trademark matters, which he declined to name, and replaced it with Boston firm Choate, Hall & Stewart after holding a traditional beauty pageant. “It’s the cost and the relationship that we’ve developed that are the primary factors in sending work out,” Weinstein said.
Name of company: iRobot Corp.
Headquarters: Bedford, Mass.
No. of lawyers in Boston area: 4
No. of U.S. lawyers outside Boston area: 0
No. of lawyers outside U.S.: 0
General counsel: Glen Weinstein
KEYS TO SUCCESS
• We work very hard to not be “The People Who Say ‘No’ Department.” A lot of folks who work at other companies and come here are nervous about asking the legal department if they can do something because they often develop a reputation for saying “no.”
• Litigation is rarely the answer. It’s sometime necessary, but it’s rarely the best path forward. You need real clarity and communication about our business goals. I make sure my team understands they are a part of the whole company’s mission.
• You need real clarity and communication about our business goals. I make sure my team understands they are a part of the whole company’s mission. — Glen Weinstein