(Photo: Lauren Welles)

A group of seven intellectual property lawyers from Vedder Price is taking their practice to a larger firm, joining forces with Duane Morris.

The lawyers, led by partners Thomas Kowalski and Deborah Lu, are mostly based in New York, with one special counsel, Heidi Lunasin, in Washington, D.C. Joining Duane Morris’ New York office with Kowalski and Lu are special counsel Lawrence Casson and Mark William Russell, and associates Tinh Nguyen and Han Gao.

Firm chairman Matthew Taylor said Duane Morris’ IP practice now has more than 110 lawyers spread over almost all of its 29 offices. It is the third-largest practice group at Duane Morris, which has about 800 lawyers total, he said.

Chicago-based Vedder Price has about 300 lawyers, with offices in New York, Washington, D.C., London, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Singapore.

A spokeswoman for Vedder Price said the firm had already determined to split with the group. “The departures of the attorneys in our NY pharma/IP business followed our decision to discontinue the business and association with the group formerly working in this practice at our firm,” the spokeswoman said. “The practice accounted for an immaterial part of our firm, and we determined it was not a fit with our overall platform.”

But Taylor, asked whether the group had any specific reason to leave Vedder Price now, said no. “They felt it was a good time to move,” he said.

The Kowalski and Lu group is “bringing some real marquee clients to the firm … and real depth to our biotechnology and pharmaceutical skill set,” Taylor said, as well as a “significant seven-figure” book of business. He declined to name specific clients.

Through a spokesperson, the firm added: “Our independent and thorough assessment confirmed that the quality of this group is outstanding, the clients they serve are well-regarded and we are thrilled to have them and the clients they serve as part of our global IP practice at Duane Morris.”

Kowalski focuses his practice on representing biotech and pharmaceutical companies in various IP matters, including patent litigation and patent prosecution. Lu, who has a Ph.D. in biological chemistry, manages complex patent portfolios, and works with clients on validity, freedom-to-operate and patentability. According to court records, their recent client representations include animal health company Merial Inc.

Taylor said Kowalski, Lu and their group have known lawyers at Duane Morris for a long time, and saw an opportunity to grow their practice. Taylor said the Duane Morris’ IP practice client roster is “a who’s who in American business, particularly in the tech sector.” It includes companies like Cisco and AT&T.

“We kind of have a boutique within a big firm,” Taylor said, regarding the various aspects of IP law the firm can service.

Norwood Jameson, chair of Duane Morris’ IP practice, said in a statement that the Vedder Price group “bolsters our marquee position in the U.S. and globally.”

Also this year, Duane Morris has hired a partner duo from shuttered firm Sedgwick, following another group hire from that firm in late 2017; three lawyers from insurance litigation boutique Vocke Law Group; and white-collar litigator Christopher Casey from Hogan Lovells. The firm has also grown its new Austin office, hiring corporate insurance partner Alex Gonzales and intellectual property litigator Pierre Hubert in January.