WilmerHale, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Fish & Richardson won more litigation business from tech companies this year than any other law firms, Bloomberg Law data shows.
DLA Piper, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius held the next three positions, according to the data. WilmerHale as the leader handled 39 federal court cases for tech companies in 2020.
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“Tech is a really hot sector right now,” said Keith Wetmore, managing director for the legal placement firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. “There’s a very high correlation between firms that are having the best years they’ve ever had, and firms that have a list of tech clients.”
Intellectual property work represented the lion’s share of tech cases in court this year for WilmerHale and Fish & Richardson, the Boston-founded firm that specializes in patent and IP law. Gibson Dunn has long been among a handful of go-to firms for high stakes litigation, including for some of Silicon Valley’s most notable names.
Other firms at the top of the list litigated several types of matters, including securities, employment, and antitrust cases.
The data compiled by Bloomberg Law tracks federal litigation involving tech companies. It does not include a wide range of other transactional and advisory services that firms often provide on matters that do not wind up in court.
WilmerHale IP, Patents
WilmerHale, which is co-headquartered in Washington, D.C. and Boston, is known for maintaining a roster of attorneys who have served in the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and other federal agencies.
All but a few of the cases the firm has handled for tech clients in federal court this year have focused on IP and patent work. The firm’s clients include Intel Corp., Apple, and HP Inc.
The range of work the firm handles for tech clients is “very broad based” and includes appearances in a number of different courts and federal agencies, Mark Selwyn, co-chair of the firm’s IP litigation practice group, and Mark Fleming, vice chair of its appellate and Supreme Court litigation practice, said in a statement.
The firm represents Apple and other tech companies suing the U.S. Patent and Trademark office over a regulation they say makes it more difficult to invalidate patents the companies are accused of infringing. A WilmerHale team that includes Selwyn and Catherine M.A. Carroll, the partner-in-charge of the firm’s Washington office, is also representing Cisco Systems and Intel Corp. in the suit. Perkins Coie is representing Alphabet Inc.'s Google.
Selwyn says the firm decades ago recognized the benefits of concentrating on IP litigation by being one of the first general practice firms to start a dedicated group focusing on patent prosecution and other “core” issues. WilmerHale employs more than a hundred lawyers with technical degrees, he said.
“Our work for tech clients involves not only legal acumen, but the ability to understand complicated scientific and engineering issues,” said Selwyn. “We speak the language of tech.”
Morgan Lewis works with tech companies across a lifecycle of IP issues, Managing Partner Steven Wall told Bloomberg Law.
With tech clients, Wall said there’s also often a greater focus on IP protection and value creation, all the way through patent prosecutions, litigation, and corporate licensing transactions. Value creation refers in part to the ability to transform IP into valuable, income-generating assets.
Still, federal lawsuits involving tech companies ran the gamut, including antitrust and tax disputes.
Tech companies’ heavy use of independent contractors rather than traditional employees also raises some unique employment law issues, Wall said.
“No industry has a more non-traditional workforce,” he said.
Though about half of the 19 cases Morgan Lewis handled for tech clients so far in 2020 appeared to focus on IP and employment-related work, Wall said his firm represents dozens of companies in the tech industry “across most of our core legal services,” including litigation, corporate, antitrust, and eDiscovery. The firm’s clients include Microsoft, Oracle Corp., Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., Broadridge Financial Solutions Inc., and Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp.
Bloomberg Law analyzed lawsuits filed between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 10, 2020, in federal courts in which technology companies were named as either the plaintiff or defendant. For the purpose of this analysis, Bloomberg Law defines a technology company based on its Bloomberg Industry Code sector classification and whether it is included in the S&P 500 as of November. The practice area and the law firms involved were identified using information from the docket. If the docket doesn’t list a case type or a law firm, that case was not included. One exception included cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit where the case type is listed as “Unknown.” The vast majority of these cases were determined to be intellectual property cases and labeled accordingly.
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