As Kirkland & Ellis revved up its defense against patent infringement claims facing client Porsche Cars North America Inc. and other car companies, its attorneys spotted a potential fatal flaw early on: statements made by the inventor about what the technology in dispute did — and did not — do.
Vehicle Operation Technologies LLC, the plaintiff, claimed the car companies infringed on a patent for a system that displayed information about how a car was operating.
Kirkland lawyers argued, and a federal judge in Delaware agreed, that the inventor clearly disclaimed the type of display functionality that Vehicle Operation Technologies argued was covered by the patent. Porsche and the plaintiff reached a confidential settlement resolving the case.
Kirkland partner Russell Levine, who led the team representing Porsche, said the case illustrated how the firm homes in on the issues it thinks will win.
"We do that which is necessary. We're not the type of litigation firm that is going to engage in scorched-earth litigation," Levine said. "We are going to engage in discovery and strategies and trial practice that is designed to advance the ball and set things up so that we can achieve victories, if not prior to trial than at trial."
Frederick Cottrell III of Richards, Layton & Finger in Delaware worked with Levine as local counsel in the Porsche case. He's also gone up against the firm, which has 60 intellectual property litigation lawyers in Chicago and 212 firmwide. Cottrell described Kirkland as "very thorough."
"They leave no stone unturned for their clients," Cottrell said. "I think if Kirkland's on a case, then if they win, great; if they lose, it won't be for lack of doing the work necessary."
Part of Kirkland's success comes from the firm's focus on litigation training for young lawyers, including in the intellectual property practice, Levine said. "It's a way to really instill that philosophy so that even your first-year associates, as they are reviewing documents and researching the law, are involved in the development of the case strategy," he said.
In November, a federal judge in California sided with Kirkland and client Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc. against patent infringement claims. Hemopet, a California-based company, claimed Hill's violated patents for technology used to develop genetics-based nutritional diets for dogs and cats. Hill's faced damages claims of $70 million, according to Kirkland.
The judge granted summary judgment to Hill's, agreeing with Kirkland that Hemopet's claims stemmed from what the judge described as a "patent-ineligible abstract idea" — that the claims involved the "abstract concept of determining a nutritional diet for a dog or cat based on naturally occurring relationships," the judge wrote. The case is on appeal.
Kirkland partner Bryan Hales, one of the lawyers for Hill's, said the firm's concentration on defenses that highlighted conflict within Hemopet's arguments helped secure the favorable ruling.
"Not that we put any [defenses] aside, but we identified the ones most useful to winning on summary judgment," Hales said.
The firm's IP practice scored in court and on the personnel front in 2014.
James Hurst, former litigation chairman of Winston & Strawn, joined Kirkland's litigation and intellectual property practice in the Chicago office. Hurst "brings an enormous amount of trial experience," Levine said.
"THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE I EVER RECEIVED…
…was from Bob Krupka, former IP trial lawyer at Kirkland, who said when you have a chance to go to trial, a preliminary injunction hearing, or other significant trial event like that, do it. Most cases settle, and you don’t know when the next chance will come along.” —Bryan Hales
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