Law firms expand patent, trademark expertise to handle IP growth

Boulder and the Front Range of Colorado’s entrepreneurial and innovative spirit has fueled growth in intellectual-property law, as startups and existing companies work to bring new products and ideas to market.

Many existing Colorado law firms have expanded their intellectual-property practices in the past couple of years, and many others are starting IP practices here, said Joel Sayres, a partner at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP who splits his time between the Denver and Boulder offices.

“It’s just a reflection overall of Front Range growth, particularly in market segments like bioscience, clean energy, technology and advanced manufacturing,” he said.

Boulder and the Front Range has a growing population and educated young workforce, and is an overall desirable place to live, he adds. Add to that a “comparatively favorable business environment, low unemployment and a thriving startup community” and the area is ripe for intellectual-property services.

“All that leads to a sense that it will continue to grow and be an important geographic segment in the future,” Sayres said.

Boulder offers a lot of support for startups. Silicon Flatirons, a program out of the University of Colorado Boulder that started in 1999, has helped spur innovation in the area. It provides support and education around entrepreneurship, tech policy and the law. The mission of Silicon Flatirons is to elevate the debate surrounding technology policy issues; support and enable entrepreneurship in the technology community; and inspire prepare, and place students in these important areas.

“I think Silicon Flatirons, coupled with a lot of positive resources for startups, has made Boulder a focal area,” said Sayres, but he still sees many tech startups moving to Denver.

“Both are burgeoning scenes for startups and technology,” he added.

Boulder and the Front Range have 12 incubators and accelerators that help Colorado startups find and take advantage of the resources they need, including Techstars, BoomTown and Innosphere.

Faegre Baker Daniels brought on three IP partners in the past year, as well as a biopharma associate.

“Like a lot of firms, we are always looking for the right complement for our IP practice. We are always interested in the right growth,” he said.

Patent law is the firm’s biggest practice area, both patent litigation and prosecution, but there is also a fair amount of trademark and copyright work for startup companies and companies that depend on having a strong brand. Trade secrets are an expanding area of IP law.

“I think people are starting to see a lot of benefits and potential for IP in Denver and Boulder,” Sayres said.

Jim Brogan, a partner and head of Cooley LLP’s IP practice in Colorado, doesn’t describe the increase in need for intellectual property services as a boom, especially because the industry has seen a fairly significant decrease in the number of patent lawsuits that have been filed across the country. But as Colorado’s technology community continues to grow, especially the software and hardware sides, and biosciences, “we’re really well-positioned long term for tech growth on all fronts,” he said.

“What we’ve seen in the bulk of our office regions around the country is movement of the tech folks toward the cities,” Brogan said.

Many of those companies are gravitating toward San Francisco and Denver.

“It doesn’t mean we don’t have stuff in Boulder and the corridor, but we are seeing more activity downtown,” he said.

Cooley is doing a lot more prosecution and counseling. It has 12 lawyers and the accompanying paralegals.

“It has been more a period of transition and flux than growth, so to speak,” Brogan said. “In our market, we have seen growth in bandwidth and bodies coming here. We have a terrific talent base in Colorado. It is a great place to live. You can project yourself all over the place, given our airport facilities. It helped us getting a local patent office. It was a shot in the arm for local practitioners to do more things here.”

He points out that Colorado just hosted the 15th Annual Rocky Mountain Intellectual Property & Technology Law Institute the first week of June. When that event first started 15 years ago, it was held in the conference room of the Denver Bar Association, he said. This year’s event had 620 people attending. That growth was driven by smaller intellectual-property shops specializing in counseling, trademark and copyright stuff, he said.

Giovanni Ruscitti, managing partner at Berg Hill Greenleaf & Ruscitti LLP in Boulder, said his firm has always had an intellectual-property practice, but it has made a concerted effort to bring in patent-prosecution attorneys and to really “take our IP practice to a different level to better serve Boulder County businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators. It’s actually been a large growth area for us and one we are very excited about.”

The company brought in two new partners and some additional support staff in the form of patent agents, additional associates and paralegals. The company has six attorneys that work on patent prosecution, patent infringement, trademarks, copyrights and trade-secret protection.

Berg Hill Greenleaf & Ruscitti is one of Boulder’s largest law firms, driven by the burgeoning market in Boulder and the surrounding areas as opposed to the market in Denver, Ruscitti said.

“There’s a lot of energy in the innovative space in Boulder; a lot of great organizations, large and small, a lot happening, and I expect that to continue,” he said. “The Front Range has really changed. Longmont has seen significant growth. Fort Collins has seen growth.”

Ruscitti’s firm has seen large growth in patents over the past six months.

“We have seen a lot of activity in that area. Having the University of Colorado in our backyard, having the national labs, Ball Aerospace and Lockheed in our backyard creates a lot of energy in this area. It brings in a lot of very talented people,” he said.

According to the Boulder Economic Council, Boulder has a diverse mix of industries that drive local, national and global economies, including a high concentration of employment in aerospace, bioscience, clean tech, IT/software, natural products and outdoor recreation. Boulder is also home to one of the state’s largest research universities, the University of Colorado Boulder, and more than a dozen federal research laboratories, including the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  All of these help fuel growth in the IP space.

Its well-educated workforce is a big driver in the number and types of companies that move to Boulder County. In its latest Market Profile for Boulder, the Boulder Economic Council shows that the median age in the city of Boulder is 29 and that “nearly all city residents age 25 or older have a high school diploma or higher (95.8%), and just under three-quarters of the population (73%) have earned a bachelor’s or advanced degree. This is more than double the U.S. average of 30.6%.”

Most of the 6,526 private employers in the city of Boulder are small businesses, according to the Boulder Economic Council. Nearly 80 percent have fewer than 10 employees, and about 96 percent have fewer than 50 employees.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office opened a satellite office in Denver in June 2014, which has “been a great resource for both attorneys and entrepreneurs and inventors here,” Sayres said. The office has not been a “primary driver of firms’ expansion, but it certainly helps.”

He adds that there is not a lot of awareness on the west or east coasts about how quickly the innovation economy is growing in Denver and Boulder.

“I think the PTO has helped confirm Denver and Boulder’s place on the map,” Sayres said.