Compared to other honoree firms, Rivkin Radler’s presence in New Jersey is relatively small. But the IP practice’s Hackensack contingent has grown in recent years and proven to be formidable, particularly in 2017, representing clients in various jurisdictions and matters. That includes: successfully defending Mylan in two different patent matters; fostering settlement in an action lodged on behalf of nutritional supplement company AstaReal over advertising claims by a competitor; defeating a trademark action for client Need Parts Inc.; and resolving by settlement a trademark dispute between client “Sweaty Bands,” a maker of athletic headbands, and a competitor.
** The responses were provided by partners Gregory D. Miller, Nancy A. Del Pizzo and Michael C. Cannata. **
What were some of the department’s most satisfying successes of 2017, and why?
Miller: Having represented a substantial number of pharmaceutical clients on the cutting edge of the generics market, it is always a challenge when the brand holders file suit hoping to impermissibly expand their rights. We had several great results this past year for these clients. In one, in particular, the court rendered a claims construction ruling largely favorable to our client and found the “ordinary” meaning of a term, as declared by plaintiff’s expert, unpersuasive and nonsensical, and instead agreed with us that the definitions upon which we relied were persuasive.
Del Pizzo: It is quite satisfying to initiate an action with enough detail to facilitate early settlement discussions from the other side. Mike (Cannata) and I had such a case last year and resolved this complicated false advertising and unfair competition matter before either party produced a single response to written discovery—a win-win for the client. It also was personally satisfying because I had the opportunity to thank the district judge who had written about the importance of avoiding sexism in writing and have that colloquy in open court with a full gallery of attorneys.
Being a Litigation Department of the Year means more than providing good counsel. How does your group go a step further for clients?
Miller: Our group is particularly unique because we not only litigate, we also handle transactions and counsel clients on discrete issues pertaining to their businesses. Having litigation experience makes us better transactional attorneys and vice versa.
Del Pizzo: For example, Mike and I prosecute trademarks, file copyright applications and advise on issues, such as right of privacy and publicity; and Greg, Mike and I prepare license agreements and other business agreements. As a result, we have a deeper understanding of how to counsel clients on litigation avoidance and risk reduction. Where there is a more complex need, our corporate department lends a hand.
Cannata: Client-centric service is a hallmark of our firm’s practice. With five offices located throughout the New York metropolitan region, we have many talented attorneys that are ready, willing, and able to provide their expertise on any given matter. For example, I was able to temporarily relocate to New Jersey for several weeks when the opportunity arose to contribute to the defense, at trial, of a major trade secret misappropriation matter. That flexibility, teamwork, and camaraderie among our offices is a great benefit to our clients.
In an era of increasing law practice portability, what does it mean to be an effective litigator in New Jersey?
Miller: When Nancy and I joined the firm, our goal was to enhance an already value-driven intellectual property practice in New York with growth in New Jersey. We are doing just that by providing added value to our litigation clients with our unique blend of litigation strength (from initiation to trial, if warranted) with transactional experience, and our unique understanding of New Jersey practice. Thus, our institutional (and other clients) benefit from our blend of experience, and portability is effectively enhanced, or otherwise, a nonissue.
Is it true that clients now more than ever wish to avoid litigation, and if so, how do law firms manage the business of operating a litigation department in the new marketplace?
Miller: For sure, litigation is not the goal for all clients. It has been and still is an expensive line item for any business, particularly where intellectual property is concerned. Because we are at the forefront of helping our clients protect their valuable intellectual property, litigation is one of many tools for those clients that want or need to take an affirmative position. Of course, we also defend clients who have no choice about becoming a litigant. However, even in those cases, we often can find a business resolution.
Del Pizzo: We consider it our job to explore creative options wherever possible and give clients the most accurate picture of cost and risk. After that analysis and discussion, sometimes litigation still makes the most sense. We don’t stop at our initial analysis and strategy. As a matter progresses, we reevaluate and make new recommendations where applicable.
Litigators are extraordinarily busy people. What does the firm do to ensure that they remain engaged with pro bono work, their communities and their families?
Miller: Rivkin Radler has a formal pro bono program managed by a partner in our Uniondale, New York office, and our attorneys are encouraged to participate. Some of our attorneys also volunteer as appointed members of ethics and fee arbitration committees.
Del Pizzo: The firm encourages and sponsors various community initiatives. We even have an attorney who has sung the National Anthem at Mets games on more than one occasion as part of a firm-supported fundraiser.
Technology and other factors have changed work capabilities and habits. How do you offer flexibility while also effectively managing attorneys and others professionals?
Miller: Because we have five office locations (Hackensack, NYC, Uniondale, Albany and Poughkeepsie), we are in the unique position to offer clients meeting space in various locations for convenience. Further, because an attorney can access our servers from any location (or from home), attorneys who are residents in the New Jersey office have the option of using other office space where it provides a cost savings to the client, and can attend to client needs wherever they have access to secure Wi-Fi and a computer or other suitable device.
Del Pizzo: Obviously, having everyone working in the same office is the failsafe for ensuring the most effective teamwork. But having technological flexibility not only aids in attending to matters on both sides of the Hudson River, it also helps take care of personal issues as they arise without impeding the ability to meet our clients’ needs and expectations—whether that’s a doctor’s appointment, eldercare needs, or to walk a dog.