Lawyers are great at asking questions, but how are they at answering them? Bloomberg Law is talking with lawyers and other legal industry players at the top of their fields to find out what makes them tick, what challenges they face, and how they do what they do.
Katten Muchin Rosenman’s Deepro Mukerjee has been in the business of trying patent cases for two decades, but is seeing major changes in litigation this year due to the coronavirus pandemic that he expects will have lasting effects on how litigators do their jobs.
Mukerjee arrived at Katten in 2018 in a lateral move from Alston & Bird along with his core team of six attorneys. He is the national co-chair of Katten’s 15-member patent litigation practice and has been the lead trial counsel for some of the world’s largest generic pharmaceutical companies in Hatch-Waxman litigation throughout the country.
The New York-based partner is also a member of the Katten’s board of directors, which helps govern the firm of almost 700 lawyers worldwide.
Bloomberg Law spoke to Mukerjee about how Covid-19 is changing the courtroom, why pharmaceutical companies are investing more in anti-anxiety remedies, and how he succeeded in a “dream case"involving one of America’s trendiest produce aisle plants.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Bloomberg Law: What sets your firm apart from other Big Law firms?
Deepro Mukerjee: In my 20 years of practice, Katten is only my third move. The mutual courtship with Katten was over seven months long because I wanted to make sure it would be the right fit for both my clients and my team. And Katten wanted to make sure that bringing a team that spanned three offices would be a proper fit. To say this was the right decision all around would be an understatement. My practice merged seamlessly with the already lauded IP practice that had been established well before my joining. Our niche expertise is without a doubt the representation of nearly every major generic pharmaceutical company in the world.
BL: What is the biggest challenge currently facing your practice area?
DM: Of course, there is no template to guide businesses through the global pandemic. My clients are no different. They are facing the uncertainties of these times like everyone. And the pandemic will continue to influence business decisions. Pharmaceutical companies will be racing for some market share of eventual vaccines. Certain therapeutic areas may see renewed focus. For example, larger investments are being made in anti-anxiety treatments and medicines. That is not surprising. The uncertain environment has led to greater anxiety within the public at large. Our new normal will also demand reevaluating geographic, brick and mortar footprints. All this is to say that the biggest challenge all around is uncertainty. We, as advisors, have to do our best to provide some semblance of certainty in the advice we proffer in an uncertain world.
BL: As a member of Katten’s board of directors, what is on the top of your mind when it comes to long-term strategic planning for the firm?
DM: I am constantly focused on how we may service our clients better. These are unprecedented times, and those firms that understand the uniqueness, and in their DNA want to do better in this new normal, are the ones that will thrive. It’s not marketing speak. Here, I have witnessed first-hand the extraordinary resilience and commitment our attorneys have shown since March when we began an all-remote work environment. Two years ago, Katten began implementing a multi-year strategy to ensure continued growth in areas of strategic importance to our clients. We are forging ahead with those plans even in this changed business environment.
Katten’s dedication to racial and gender diversity is reflected in our board. We have high numbers of women attorneys in leadership positions. If our CEO and chair have anything to do with it, those numbers will only grow.
BL: How has your representation of pharmaceutical companies in litigation changed since the pandemic broke out and put more focus on this industry?
DM: In most respects, litigation specific to pharmaceuticals has not changed per se. The generic pharmaceutical industry is still thriving, and there is a continued need for high quality, affordable prescription drugs. But litigation itself has changed. Depositions are remote. Trials are remote. Witnesses can’t travel. Courts and attorneys have adapted to this new environment. To date, it has worked rather well. While I do miss the thrill of getting admissions in the courtroom, the remote environment provides efficiencies. Travel costs and related expenses are non-existent—which result in cost savings for the client. We have virtual conference rooms, break-out rooms, witness preparation centers and the like. Frankly, these tools may serve well past this pandemic. The future of litigation will undoubtedly exploit the technical advances in which we as litigators are now versed.
BL: What is your most interesting war story from your career/practice?
DM: About a year ago, I was lead trial counsel for one of the world’s largest fresh produce distributors, Avocados Plus Inc. in a plant patent lawsuit filed by Agroindustria Ocoeña, S.A. (AIOSA) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. In the history of U.S. jurisprudence, there have been less than a dozen plant patent cases. This area of the law is uncharted territory. Add to that that this particular case involved a patent related to a popular variety of avocado, and you have the makings of a dream case.
Because our client was sued on the patent, we aggressively pursued counterclaims. With fact discovery coming to a close we turned the tide. Not only were we able to have all the claims against our client dismissed, but we also had the plaintiff assign rights to the patent-in-suit to our client. In other words, our client—who was sued on the patent—ended up receiving rights to the patent itself. We also obtained a public apology from the plaintiff for bringing the lawsuit in the first place.
BL: What advice would you give an associate just starting out his/her Big Law career?
DM: Take ownership. It doesn’t matter if one is the most junior associate or the most seasoned professional. We should take ownership for our clients’ matters as if they were our own. We are business partners with our clients, and it is never too early to learn and nurture that. Forge relationships early on —not just with colleagues and mentors, but with others in the profession. Your law school friend today could be your biggest client tomorrow.