Robert M. Bryan Interviewed by Law360 on his Intellectual Property Practice

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July 30, 2013

Q&A With Robinson Bradshaw's Robert Bryan

Law360, New York (July 30, 2013, 12:28 PM ET) -- Robert M. Bryan is a shareholder in Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson PA's Charlotte, N.C., office. He has more than 25 years of experience in a broad range of commercial matters. For the last 15 years, he has concentrated his practice in the intellectual property area. He has experience in acquisitions, joint ventures and licenses involving patents, trademarks, know-how, software and other intellectual property, in both domestic and international transactions. He also advises clients in the development of programs for protecting proprietary rights and for complying with privacy laws and regulations.

Q: What is the most challenging case you have worked on and what made it challenging?

A: The most challenging matter I have handled was the proposed acquisition by a client of a business in the telecommunications industry. The business could be conducted by our client only if it were able to assume patent and technology licenses from multiple industry leaders, all of whom were competitors and sought to limit the scope of their licenses. All of the licenses had to be simultaneously renegotiated under extreme time pressure (sometimes in simultaneous negotiations with multiple parties in multiple conference rooms at a single location), and we had to be certain that the cumulative mosaic of licenses permitted the intended activities.

Q: What aspects of your practice area are in need of reform and why?

A: At a high level, intellectual property laws should encourage innovation and fairly reward those who innovate. For the system to work well there must be predictability and a fast and cost-effective way to resolve disputes. Particularly in the patent area, there is no longer enough certainty since the scope of protection is not completely clear and it is almost impossible to identify in advance all of the potential worldwide prior art that may be relevant. Some of that uncertainty may be unavoidable. So what we need through reform is a more efficient way to resolve disputes. Enforcing a patent through a lawsuit in the United States now often costs millions of dollars, and frequently escalates into a broader battle that challenges patents that were not initially in dispute. It is too early to tell if any of the new administrative procedures under the America Invents Act will help deal with this problem.

Q: What is an important issue or case relevant to your practice area and why?

A: For the intellectual property law system to work efficiently there must be predictability. Over the last couple decades, the patent laws have failed to keep pace with the rapid changes in technology in a wide range of settings, including financial services, software and genetics. The result has been pervasive uncertainty about the scope of patentable subject matter. The U.S. Supreme Court has attempted to address this issue, but so far we have only limited clarity at the Supreme Court level, and continued inconsistency at the federal court level.

Q: Outside your own firm, name an attorney in your field who has impressed you and explain why.

A: Jim Cannon of Miers Bigel Sibley & Sajovec in Raleigh, N.C. We have referred matters to Jim on a regular basis for years. Jim is an excellent patent and trademark lawyer from a technical perspective. However, what impresses me the most is his approach. Jim understands that not all intellectual property has the same value. He is always sensitive to the practical commercial limitations in dealing with IP matters and to the amount of work that can be justified to protect specific intellectual property rights.

Q: What is a mistake you made early in your career and what did you learn from it?

A: Early in my career, I would assume that the parties had chosen the best legal structure for an IP-intensive matter and focus on resolving the legal issues in the necessary contracts. What I learned over time was to always take a step back at the start and ask probing questions to be sure we were really using the best legal structure. Intellectual property can be allocated and managed in so many different creative ways that a “one size fits all” approach does a disservice to your client. It is essential to identify the commercial objectives first, and then be certain that the legal structure is consistent with those objectives.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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