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VOL. 126 | NO. 58 | Thursday, March 24, 2011

Intellectual Property Grows At Wyatt Tarrant

By Andy Meek

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This month alone, the intellectual property lawsuits have been flying.

Apple is suing Amazon.com over Amazon’s use of the term “App Store” with customers.

Microsoft is suing Barnes and Noble over alleged patent violations associated with the book chain’s Nook e-reader.

A group called Imperium Holdings is suing several companies including Apple and Nokia over patents related to cameras and imaging equipment in phones.

Closer to home, medical device manufacturer Smith & Nephew Inc., whose orthopedics division is headquartered in Memphis, has filed a multimillion-dollar suit against nine ex-employees over allegations those employees were planning to build a new company from scratch and would improperly use company trade secrets in the process.

Such activity shows why lawyers such as Bill Parks and Mark Vorder-Bruegge are keeping plenty busy.

Vorder-Bruegge and Parks are attorneys in Memphis with Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs LLP. Parks also is the first president of the Memphis Bar Association’s still relatively new intellectual property and entertainment law section.

A seemingly never-ending stream of disputes over patents, trademarks, trade secrets and the like means the firm is busy and “in a growth mode” relative to its intellectual property practice, according to Vorder-Bruegge.

Wyatt Tarrant is a regional law firm, and areas where Vorder-Bruegge said the firm would like to expand its intellectual property efforts include in Nashville, which has a bustling health care and biotech business community. He said Wyatt Tarrant also would love to find another employment lawyer to work with the firm on intellectual property-related issues.

When considering the effects of the recession, it’s easy to see why. Workers today are less likely than they were a decade ago to stay long-term with an employer, and if employers aren’t careful, a lot of times a company’s intellectual property will walk out the door when an employee does.

“Some of our people are cross-disciplined with some of our corporate lawyers in offering intellectual property audit services to clients,” said Vorder-Bruegge about Wyatt Tarrant, which has about 12 intellectual property-related attorneys. “We find that a lot of businesses really don’t realize what intellectual property they do have. They haven’t always spotted opportunities to turn it into revenue or how to protect it.”

That’s one of the themes hit on during last month’s University of Memphis Law Review Symposium, at which Glankler Brown PLLC chief manager William R. Bradley Jr. talked about the bustling intellectual property law activity fueled solely by Elvis Presley, his music and likeness.

Bradley said Elvis “didn’t do too much to protect his (intellectual property) rights during his lifetime.” Today, courts around the country constantly see lawsuits related to alleged copyright and trademark infringement of Elvis’ music and image.

Wyatt Tarrant has several registered patent attorneys who regularly practice before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, and many of those joined the firm after experience as managers or in-house counsel with companies such as General Electric, Colgate-Palmolive and IBM Global Services.

The firm’s attorneys represent a gamut of clients, from Fortune 100 companies to inventors and musicians.

It’s certainly an understatement to say such service is increasingly important. Parks, for example, calls intellectual property one of the more difficult areas of law.

“It’s very demanding. You’re trying to distill some very difficult items down on paper,” he said. “The Supreme Court, in fact, fairly recently said the most difficult legal document that has to be drafted by anybody is a patent application.”

Part of that difficulty comes from understanding that a patent a lawyer is working on now might in the future wind up on a screen projected in a federal courtroom to a jury.

However, Wyatt Tarrant has assembled a strong intellectual property team that relishes such work, both men said.

“We have a group of people who work together in a way that would be the envy of any team anywhere,” said Vorder-Bruegge about his colleagues at Wyatt Tarrant. “And we’re very proud of them.”

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