Kirkland & Ellis partner Gregory Arovas's latest assignment for client Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., is going to require some pretty maniacal multitasking, considering the multitude of cell phone patents he's fighting over on a range of different fronts.
Seoul-based Samsung is battling it out with Sweden's AB Ericsson over the patents behind the new generation of turbocharged cell phones, which let users scan the Web and view movie trailers and Super Bowl highlights at broadband speeds. And did we mention that there are a lot of those patents? Indeed, according to Arovas's count, two infringement suits that Samsung and Ericsson filed against each other in the Eastern District of Texas in early 2006 involve 59 separate patents. Plus, as Arovas notes, the two companies are currently locked in parallel infringement fights in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, which involve at least another handful of separate patents.
"The patents are everywhere," says Arovas, who's based in Kirkland's New York office. "This is just enormous."
Arovas, 39, has handled sprawling cases before. He played a lead role, along with Kirkland partner John Desmarais, in Infineon Technologies AG's epic five-year fight with Rambus Inc. over patents involved in the making of memory chips--a battle that played out in multiple venues in the United States and Europe. (The case ultimately settled in mid-2005.) Likewise, Arovas has experience in matters involving multiple patents: In fact, he's currently representing Xerox Corporation in an infringement case against Sharp Corporation in which more than two dozen patents (related to copying and printing technology) are at issue.
Arovas, a 1992 University of Michigan law school grad, had thought two dozen was a pretty hefty number--at least until last year, when the 59 patents in the Samsung/Ericsson suits in Texas came along.
But it's not just the sheer number of patents involved that makes the litigation daunting. On top of the original suits in Texas, Samsung and Ericsson have each filed separate infringement complaints with the International Trade Commission (ITC) in Washington, D.C., not to mention the three cases they're fighting in Europe. And Arovas, as Samsung's chief outside strategist on the Ericsson matters, is in charge of coordinating them all. "It's certainly a challenge to keep it all together," says Arovas, who began representing Samsung in 2003. He has since handled a half dozen patent-related matters for the company, including an infringement battle that it is currently waging in Texas against Japan's Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., involving semiconductor-related patents.
His top priority right now is getting ready for two upcoming trials at the ITC, the first of which is scheduled to start in late March. The good news: There are only 16 patents at issue in the ITC cases. Ericsson is being represented by lawyers from New York's Morgan & Finnegan and Dallas's McKool Smith.
Arovas figures the ITC proceedings will be a good warm-up for the two bigger, more complicated cases in Texas, since that litigation, which is now in the early stages of discovery, involves the same 16 patents, plus 43 others. A big job so far has been to try to organize all those patents into distinct subgroups so the cases don't get too bogged down in detail. One class of patents, for instance, deals with coding methods and circuits that make data transmission more efficient, while other patents cover the use of text messaging technology to send pictures and graphics. "The real challenge is to find the common threads that unify everything into one understandable package, " says Arovas, who majored in math and physics as a Michigan undergrad.
Of course, while Arovas has been working to find those threads, he's also had to keep a close eye on the German, British, and Dutch cases, which are all at different stages. And that, in turn, has brought a whole other separate set of difficulties, given that it means working with three main outside law firms in three separate jurisdictions (with their own distinct laws, languages, and legal procedures) and trying to make sure all three advance common themes in their cases. The three firms are Bristows in the U.K.; Rospatt Osten Pross in Germany; and Brinkhof in the Netherlands.
"The big challenge is getting them all on the same page," says Arovas.
It doesn't help that those firms (along with Samsung in-house lawyers in South Korea) are in different time zones. Arovas has had to rouse himself for more than a few middle-of-the-night conference calls. "It happens much more than I'd like," he says.
Then there's the fact that both Samsung and Ericsson are non-U.S. companies-- and that some witnesses for both sides, including company engineers and salespeople, tend to speak limited English. Fortunately, he says, he has some good translators to help. "My Korean's not so good," he notes, adding, "Actually, my Swedish isn't so good, either."
But Arovas isn't letting minor logistical details get him down--he insists that he's enjoying fighting the biggest, most complicated matter of his career.
Says Arovas: "The challenges make it more fun."
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