Roger Emerson, a founder and managing partner of the boutique law firm now known as Emerson Thomson Bennett, sat down with us to discuss his practice. Previously a mechanical engineer, Emerson was drawn to the practice of intellectual property, the sole focus of their law firm.
AALM: What drew you into the practice of law? What do you enjoy most about intellectual property?
Emerson: The perception of excellence drew me to the law. I liked the idea of working with and competing against intelligent and disciplined people. With my good technical education, patent law came naturally. I enjoy the optimism of the clients in this practice. Generally, clients call a patent attorney when they have invented something about which they are excited and optimistic.
AALM: What compelled you to open your own practice? How has your firm evolved since you first founded it in 1992?
Emerson: A desire to have more control over my time. Over the years the firm has changed primarily through the wonderful contributions and complementary gifts of my partners and associates. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
AALM: How would you describe the culture of your firm? What is the brand you and your partners have attempted to create?
Emerson: “Law is a jealous mistress” as the saying goes, and mistresses destroy families. We want to be different. As much as possible we want our employees to prosper in all areas of their lives because of our role in their lives. We are collaborative and kind and we have reasonable billable hour requirements. We treat persons as individuals and allow them to be different. We have objective compensation systems to reward superior performers.
AALM: How would you describe your partners? What drew them to intellectual property?
Emerson: My partners are firstly excellent persons of the highest character. They are also skilled and hard-working lawyers. I am most grateful and proud that they would associate with our firm. I am not sure what drew them to intellectual property law, other than the fact that they each have undergraduate degrees in the sciences.
AALM: How would you describe each of your roles within the firm?
Emerson: We are complementary. One of us is a good IP litigator. Two are experts at U.S. and foreign patent prosecution. One is skilled in trademarks and copyrights and domain name disputes. All of us are skilled at assisting other attorneys as they advise their clients on IP issues.
AALM: Which case stands out the most in your mind? A case that affected you or the way you practice law.
Emerson: An inventor approached a company about an invention for which he had filed a patent application. The company basically stole his product. Later, the patent issued and we took the litigation on a contingent fee. We won a large verdict and we continue to represent that inventor to this day. That case showed me that, when used wisely, an IP lawyer can create more value for the client than his/her cost and can be a positive cash flow option for a company.
AALM: What is the typical legal matter handled by your firm? Has that changed over the years?
Emerson: A typical client for our firm is a manufacturer, so a typical legal matter would be a patent application and a trademark application for the new product.
AALM: How is your firm involved in the legal community and the Northeast Ohio community?
Emerson: We let our attorneys be as involved, or not involved, as they wish. Many of us choose to be involved. I personally have served our community as a board member of the Greater Akron Chamber, the University of Akron Honors College Advancement Council, the Intellectual Property Council at the University Akron School of Law, the Northeast Ohio Christian Business Men’s Committee, the Northeast Ohio Christian Business Women’s Committee, the advisory board of the Innovation Practice Center at the University of Akron, the Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, and I am a member of the Tocqueville Society of the United Way of Summit County and the Firestone Country Club.
AALM: As you look to the future, how do you see your firm evolving?
Emerson: I think we will continue our steady growth. We are providing excellent legal work at a good value and the importance of intellectual property is expected to continue to grow.
AALM: Are there any changes coming in the legal community that your firm anticipates will affect the practice of law? How is your firm addressing those concerns?
Emerson: Historically, general practice law firms referred intellectual property matters to boutiques like ours that are not competitive and worked only in intellectual property law. More recently, some general practice law firms are attempting to add intellectual property services to their offerings. Our firm is addressing those concerns by ensuring we have a broad spectrum of lawyers with technical backgrounds. Even a larger general practice firm likely has only one or just a few intellectual property lawyers. We have 14 professionals with degrees in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemistry, biology, physics and neurogenetics. Thus, we are able to provide excellent intellectual property services to the clients of referring attorneys in a non-competitive, collaborative manner.
AALM: As intellectual property is an ever-evolving field, what challenges do you see taking precedence in the future?
Emerson: Intellectual property law is primarily federal. In 2013, patent law changed more than it had since 1952. I think clients tend to invest less in intellectual property assets if they lack confidence and certainty about the value of those assets. I am hoping our government will refrain from changing our long-standing intellectual property laws and thereby erode confidence in the investment. Our firm is addressing this issue by following it closely and advising our clients how to navigate the options we foresee.
AALM: Are there any changes within your firm coming in the near future that you’re excited about?
Emerson: Yes. I am very excited about the new associates we have added in the last two years. They are good people, learning to be good lawyers, and they are going to be big contributors to our firm.
AALM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Emerson: I am grateful for the opportunity to be a lawyer in a country such as ours, where the rule of law governs our affairs and we have freedom. I pray that lawyers take their responsibilities seriously and seek for justice in America through our system.