For more than 80 years, Robins Kaplan LLP has been a champion of entrepreneurship and ingenuity. From a two-person partnership, this premier trial law firm has grown to more than 250 attorneys across eight key cities, backed by the most sophisticated personnel, knowledge and technologies to ensure the effective resolution of its clients’ most complex enterprise problems.
As an innovator in the law, Robins Kaplan is constantly adapting to keep pace with the changing needs of the people and industries it serves. Robins Kaplan is further strengthened by its diversity, an ideal inspired by the belief that the varied backgrounds of its people enriches its practice of law.
CHRISTOPHER LARUS is chair of the National IP and Technology Litigation Group. He says that he and his colleagues are united in a fundamental purpose: to help clients protect ideas.
“Our firm has, in its 80-year history of litigation, tried some of most challenging cases in this country. Our intellectual property and technology lawyers are a large team of very talented folks. Here, they are trained early about the challenges of presenting complex technology topics to judges and juries. Our greatest value proposition is the incredibly talented people we have at every level. The four attorneys we are highlighting here reflect diverse backgrounds and practices. The point of commonality across them all is their ability to understand highly complex science and other technical matters and distill the most relevant issues for presentation to a jury in a clear, understandable and compelling way.”
PATRICK ARENZ handles high-stakes disputes for clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies to small, inventor-led firms and individuals. His practice centers on patent and copyright infringement matters, trade secret misappropriation, breach of contract disputes, and business and individual tort cases. He chaired Robins Kaplan’s Pro Bono Committee from 2015 through 2018 and now chairs the firm’s Recruiting/Hiring Committee.
HKW: Describe your role in helping clients protect ideas.
PA: Intellectual property rights are only as valuable as the ability to enforce them. Most of the clients I work with need help because another company, and often a larger, better-funded company, has already misappropriated their innovation. My role as a trial lawyer then is to level the playing field, vindicate their IP rights in court, and ensure they receive full compensation for the infringement.
HKW: Tell me about your current role as chair of the Recruiting/Hiring Committee and how Robins Kaplan is expanding to meet the needs of clients.
PA: Robins Kaplan has an 80-year history of high-stakes trials and results. That’s what brought me to the firm and what I enjoy the most to this day about my practice. As the chair of the Recruiting Committee, I enjoy searching for those who want to share in this mission and become the next generation of elite trial lawyers: excellent writers, charismatic storytellers and resilient advocates.
HKW: What is extraordinary about the collaboration and resources at Robins Kaplan, and how do these drive results?
PA: Our Trial Support Group and mock courtroom are unique advantages for our firm. Especially now with many remote hearings, we have a behind-the-scenes pro team that can ensure everything goes smoothly. And our mock courtroom, which replicates federal courthouses across the country, provides a perfect space. Just a few months ago, in fact, I tried (and won) an entire arbitration by Zoom from our courtroom without a single disruption. While I’m a believer that every trial lawyer needs to know how to operate technology in the courtroom himself, it’s a huge advantage to have our team of experts who are always at the ready to fix any glitch.
AARON FAHRENKROG represents both plaintiffs and defendants in all aspects of patent litigation and trial in complex cases involving patents, strategic IP monetization, class actions, technology licensing and publicity rights. He studied chemical engineering and has a proficiency in learning intricate technology in a range of areas including circuit architecture, 3D graphics rendering and semiconductor fabrication. He enjoys patent cases because they present an intersection of technology, economics, business and persuasion.
HKW: How does your way of thinking as a scientist
enhance your approach to IP litigation?
AF: I would say it’s a combination of thinking like a scientist, an engineer, a businessperson and a storyteller — all of these go into our work. Like a scientist, we have to envision things that haven’t been created or proven yet — like the value of certain IP — and test whether they’re possible. Like an engineer, we have to figure out how to use the available resources in the most efficient way possible to drive to the best result for our clients. Like a businessperson, we have to make good investment decisions about where to invest our resources given the potential returns. And like a storyteller, we have to communicate very complex ideas in a simple way that people like jurors can understand. All of these come together for successful IP licensing, litigation, trials and appeals.
HKW: In what ways is Robins Kaplan a forward-looking firm, and what opportunities does this create for lawyers?
AF: We have a long history of sharing risk with our clients, particularly in patent and other IP cases. This creates a culture of entrepreneurship — often helping our clients identify new opportunities to create value or share in the risk of taking on opportunities that our clients might otherwise forego if they have to bear all the risk themselves. When you combine entrepreneurship with a focus on trial, it forms an environment of envisioning new opportunities and how our clients will ultimately realize value on those opportunities in the courtroom. This aspect of value creation is one of my favorite things about our firm. For our lawyers, it presents opportunities to think beyond the usual rules and process and create new value for our clients.
DAVID PRANGE is a trial lawyer and licensed patent attorney. He helps clients navigate complex intellectual property issues across a wide range of technologies. His experience includes patent infringement, trade secret misappropriation, and trademark infringement, as well as insurance coverage and contractual licensing relating to intellectual property assets such as patents, standard-essential patents and trade secrets.
HKW: How are COVID and the transition to remote work impacting the protection of trade secrets, and how are you and your practice group responding?
DP: The rapid transition by businesses to a remote work environment has, in many cases, changed the protection framework that companies have employed to protect their trade secrets. Companies must now confront new risks; for example companies may have less control over employee access to trade secrets, trade secret access and transmission may be through riskier channels, and simplified remote access or hardware communication systems provides more potential breach points for misappropriation. The result is that companies need to be even more diligent and evaluate the trade secret access policies, hardware and software requirements and protocols, and to identify new risk indicators to signal when action should be taken. We have worked to educate our clients on these increased and evolving risks, identifying where attention should be focused, and counseling when to take action.
HKW: What other trends do you see in your area of practice in terms of increased risk and claims?
DP: For years, succeeding on a patent claim has become harder – for example, increased validity scrutiny through PTAB/IPR practice and through increased scrutiny to any calculation of damages relating to infringement. This has caused many companies to reevaluate whether obtaining patents is the best strategy to protect intellectual property, and it has resulted in a renewed focus on trade secret protection. Trade secret protection in many cases may be a better avenue than patent protection to protect certain types of information, such as algorithms or other computer-related innovations, which in many instances have growing and significant value in the digital economy.
SHARON ROBERG-PEREZ is an M.I.T-trained Ph.D. who leverages over a decade of experience working as a molecular biologist in her legal practice. Dr. Roberg-Perez’s practice focuses on intellectual property disputes between biotechnology, medical devices or life sciences companies of all sizes, ranging from startup companies to one of the world’s largest medical device manufacturers. She serves on Robins Kaplan’s Diversity Committee and has been an instructor in the firm’s Exceptional Advocate Training Program.
HKW: What prompted your transition to law?
SRP: While I very much enjoyed the intellectual challenges of being a research biologist, I wanted my daily work to have real-world impact. That is what drew me to patent litigation. No one starts a patent fight unless there is technology at issue that has been successful on the market — technology that is meaningful. In my practice, that has meant anything from touch screens to genetic assays to heart valves.
HKW: How do you take complex ideas and make them accessible to juries and judges?
SRP: You have to find and tell the story. A case starts with a patent. But the story is in the documents, and in witness testimony. Once the story has been fully fleshed out, it then has to be honed. Even in cases with millions of documents, likely only a handful will matter at trial. You have to find the narrative that lets you present the salient facts at a hearing, or to the jury, in a way that is memorable.
HKW: Tell me about your role as co-chair of the Diversity Committee and how Robins Kaplan is taking an active stand for social justice both inside and outside the firm.
SRP: Robins Kaplan has had a formal diversity committee since 1999, but diversity and inclusion have been at the heart of this firm since its inception in 1938. The firm was founded by two Jewish lawyers who were denied opportunities at other firms because of anti-Semitism. Since then, the firm strives to be a place where all talented attorneys are welcome.
Internally, the firm’s Executive Board adopted the Leaders Engaged in the Advancement of Diversity (LEAD) Initiative in 2015, empowering firm leaders to take ownership of diversity by appointing a Diversity Champion on the Board, formulating a written plan to better ingrain diversity in hiring and advance-ment decisions, and requiring regular reports from each area of the firm to the Board.
The results from LEAD have been immediate, tangible, and transformative. For example, the firm established a rule (similar to the NFL’s much-publicized “Rooney Rule”) requiring that a diverse slate of candidates be considered for all lateral associate positions. In the first year after the rule was implemented, the firm increased its hiring of associates of color by 30 percent and those identifying as LGBTQ by 13 percent.
Similarly, the firm implemented a retention and development program to identify and support future leaders who are women, attorneys of color, and LGBTQ individuals. Participants in the program receive additional mentoring and skills training to support their practices and facilitate future advancement. One hundred percent of participants in the first cohort of the program are still with the firm, 87 percent have advanced to partner, and many report increased morale as a result of the support they have received. The firm hopes to see each Future Leader ultimately join the partnership.
Externally, the firm has a long history of representing individuals who have been harmed. Some of my colleagues, for example, represent clients who have been harmed by police misconduct in civil rights cases. Moreover, all of our attorneys are active in pro bono work, routinely partnering with organizations such as the Advocates for Human Rights, Lambda Legal and state Attorney General Offices.
Larus concludes, “We are truly standing on the shoulders of giants who are part of the great history at this firm. But we are very much looking forward to the needs our clients will have in the future. It is borne out in the investment we are making in innovation and technology, and the way we are representing in different areas of law that is different than in years past. It is demonstrated in our desire to put out front and center the next generation of trial lawyers that reflects so well on the broader team who will be titans of bar in times to come. It’s very rewarding to work with this team of smart, driven, talented people, to talk through complex ideas and make sure we are providing folks with the very best advice.”