Intellectual property (IP) law is the mainstay of innovation. The attorneys who provide copyright, patent and trademark protections sustain the work of inventors, scientists and engineers whose creations transform our lives and our livelihood. In March, U.S. & World Report cited IP law as a growth specialty in legal practice. But the watchword is “specialty” – IP attorneys often combine their legal expertise with a technical or engineering background. And relationships in the field are key. (Pictured from King & Spalding, from left: Robert A. Whitman '91, Partner; Chandan Sarkar '09, Associate; Robert F. Perry '89, Partner in the Intellectual Property Practice Group and New York Office Managing Partner).
Bob Whitman ?91, a Partner in the IP Law Practice at King & Spalding in Manhattan, faced a challenging economic climate in the late 1980s when he graduated from college with a degree in electrical engineering. “I was strong in math and physics – timeless skills in any job market – but I graduated into a recession. At the time, Japan cornered the market in electronics and jobs were hard to come by, especially with just a bachelor’s degree. Some friends of mine were lawyers and it sounded interesting. And then I learned about patent law – a field that’s always in demand – and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” Working as a summer associate, and then, as a full-time attorney, at the Manhattan-based IP boutique firm, Kenyon & Kenyon LLP, Whitman met Bob Perry ?89, then a rising associate at the firm. They remained in touch as Whitman left Kenyon & Kenyon to serve as in-house counsel at a Fortune 500 company Siemens. When Perry was named Managing Partner for King & Spalding’s New York Office nearly two decades later, he called on Whitman to join the firm’s flourishing IP Practice Group.
Chandan Sarkar ?09 came to Seton Hall Law with a similar interest in IP, bringing with him a master’s degree in engineering and a decade of professional experience gained at Johnson & Johnson where he learned first-hand how products are conceived, developed and brought to market. Sarkar pursued a J.D. along with a concentration in IP Law as an evening student while he worked full time during the day.
Scott Weingaertner, also a partner at King & Spalding, taught Patent Law as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall Law and provided a the path to Sarkar’s next career move. Sarkar explains, “I did well in the course, but Scott also made himself accessible outside the classroom. Sometimes I’d find him in the café before class and we’d have a cup of coffee and just talk. When King & Spalding was looking to hire a new associate, he suggested I apply.”
Sarkar believes that the adjunct professors who teach many of Seton Hall Law’s higher-level IP courses give students a competitive edge. He explains, “Through the IP concentration I was exposed to professors who also practiced law full time. They shared their war stories and cases, some of which they’d worked on that very day. One professor told us that for our final she would give us a fact pattern, and we’d have to draft a licensing agreement from memory. That gives you a real feel for legal practice.”
Bob Perry ’89, Managing Partner of King & Spalding’s New York office and also a practitioner within the firm’s IP Law Practice, explains that IP attorneys comprise a small and somewhat exclusive community. Perry joined that community when he graduated from Seton Hall Law, having earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and an M.B.A. from Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business. He completed his M.B.A. while he worked full time at Siemens Allis, a joint venture of Siemens and Allis Chalmers formed in the mid-1980s, and he got his JD while he worked for a Swedish company called Alfa-Laval, a manufacturer of centrifuges and process equipment. Upon graduation from Seton Hall Law, he entertained multiple job offers from law firms in New York City.
Perry explains, “Twenty years ago, there were six or seven IP law firms in New York. Today, most of the top law firms have an IP practice. At King & Spalding, we have 31 IP practitioners in the New York City office, where we specialize in patent litigation and the bio-pharma industry. But there are 88 IP attorneys worldwide located in nine of our 17 offices across the globe, offering a full-service approach to IP law. We can help inventors secure patents, and bring an idea to fruition, from licensing to manufacturing. In fact, some of our lawyers are patent holders themselves.”
Seton Hall Law students have found great success at King & Spalding, which Perry and Whitman attribute to their practical approach to the law and a strong work ethic. “Our staff is lean, and we need associates to jump in from the start. We know when we hire a Seton Hall Law student we’ll have an associate who works hard and will take on that responsibility. They aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves.”
Whitman remembers one of his first assignments as a young associate, taking on a patent defense case, in which he believed his Seton Hall Law experience made all the difference: “I stepped into a roomful of cartons and was told to ‘make some sense of those documents.’ It was pretty clear other people had been asked to do the same thing. I did make sense of the documents, and helped Toyota win a dismissal for a case that shouldn’t have gone to court in the first place.”
What does King & Spalding look for in an associate? In a nutshell, experience counts. Perry explains, “We are especially interested in students who served on Law Review, as a federal clerk, or in a district attorney’s office. These are the students who know about court proceedings, they may have even addressed a judge in court, and they know how to draft a persuasive brief.”
Perry agrees that Sarkar’s corporate experience at Johnson & Johnson was also particularly attractive to King & Spalding. “I didn’t follow the regular channel of doing summer associate jobs or internships, but they appreciated that I had learned the inner workings of a corporation during my time at J&J,” Sarkar explains. But, he concedes with a smile, “It helped that I was a Seton Hall Law graduate. They respected the pedigree.”