Exclusive with the AIPLA Presidents: Bill Barber & Jeff Lewis

Bill Barber (left) and Jeff Lewis (right).

The American Intellectual Property Law Association is run day-to-day by Q. Todd Dickinson, the former USPTO Director who if you listen to rumors is on this short list or that short list for an appointment to the USPTO or the CAFC. But the AIPLA is not just Todd Dickinson and his extremely capable Executive Team and Staff. So much of the heavy lifting is done by dedicated attorney volunteers who serve on Committees, each with a different focus. The AIPLA is also made up of a Board of Directors that is very hands on, informed about virtually everything and provides what seems to be nearly constant guidance to the organization on issues ranging from positions to take in amicus briefs, to the organization stance on patent reform and PTO rules, to any number of international issues. The amount of work the AIPLA does boggles the mind.

The AIPLA, like State Bar Associations, also has a President. You will read that the AIPLA has 25 full-time employees, but truthfully that number seems like it should be 26. The AIPLA President, as far as I can tell, works every bit as hard and long as anyone else, but simply isn’t paid. The President also attempts to the greatest extent possible to also find time to do real legal work for clients in between rushing to this meeting, taking that call, dealing with whatever issue or flying off to some exotic land to represent the AIPLA abroad.

The AIPLA President serves what appears to be a 1 year term, but that is just the year as President. There is really a 5 year commitment, over which time more and more responsibility is placed on the person who will eventually wear the mantle of President for that year. Then upon leaving the Presidency that person becomes immediate Past President, which means the obligation to the organization agreed to long ago is not yet complete.

Just ahead of the 2012 AIPLA Annual Meeting I had an opportunity to go on the record with Bill Barber (of Pirkey Barber PLLC) then President and now Immediate Past President of AIPLA. Also joining the discussion was Jeff Lewis (of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP), who was then President-elect and is now President of AIPLA. In part 1 of this 2 part interview we talk about the organization and how it operates, as well as the time commitment they invest.  We also discuss getting “buy-in” from their law partners and their families.

Without further ado, here is part 1 of my interview with Bill Barber and Jeff Lewis.

QUINN: Thanks guys for joining me. It’s a pleasure to have an opportunity to chat with you. Thanks for taking the time out of your day and ahead of the AIPLA meeting. I imagine you guys are probably pretty busy.

BARBER: A little bit, yes.

LEWIS: There’s a lot of stuff.

QUINN: Okay. Well, let’s start with Bill, because you are currently the president. But you’re only the president for, what, two more weeks now, correct?

BARBER: That’s right. I believe I have 15 days left. Not that I’m counting the days or anything like that.

QUINN: Well, it sounds like you might be counting the days.

BARBER: Let’s just say I’ll be very happy to turn the reign over to Jeff Lewis.

QUINN: Okay. And, Jeff, are you ready to assume this mantel?

LEWIS: I have to tell you it’s pretty big shoes to fill. It’s a little daunting but I am looking forward to it.

QUINN: Okay. Well, I thought I’d like to try and get an idea of how it is that you guys work with AIPLA and how you manage to have a practice. Because, Jeff, you’re involved currently even though you’re not the current president, right?

LEWIS: Yes, I’m currently president-elect. We have a five year cycle when you take on the commitment to become involved in the executive committee, where you step up from second vice-president to presumably then fist vice-president. Then you become elected as president-elect, where you serve a year in the shadow and assisting the president, learning on the job. And then at the conclusion of that year you automatically become president. At the conclusion of your presidency, the immediate past-president is also a member of the executive committee. So it’s a five year cycle. But there are a few years that you get to learn on the job.

QUINN: Okay. Well, Bill, it sounds like you’re not completely out of the woods yet then, huh?

BARBER: No, I’ll still have another year to serve as immediate past-president as Jeff just described. I’ll be on the executive committee for another year and heavily involved in AIPLA business in that sense. But the year that you’re president is really a very, very busy year and demanding year. And so Jeff has that to look forward to next year.

QUINN: So is this a situation where I imagine your partners in the firm that you would have to be kind of understanding?

BARBER: Yes, absolutely. I think that that’s essential and fortunately my senior partner is a past-president of AIPLA so my firm really has a culture of being involved and supportive of our activities and my law firm has been extremely supportive of me over the past year. As has my wife, by the way. But my firm has been very supportive of me. When I decided to take on this commitment and became president of AIPLA, I decided that I needed to place AIPLA as my number one priority in my professional life for that year. And you really have to have your firm’s support to do that. And they’ve done that. I’ve been able to delegate my firm responsibilities to my partners and associates. I stay involved to the extent I can, but they really pull the laboring oar for things that I would have done in previous years.

QUINN: And, Jeff, would you agree with that? You’ve got buy-in from your firm as well?

LEWIS: Absolutely. This is something that is a great deal of time and effort and energy, and I discussed this with the management of my law firm before I ever took the post.

QUINN: And what kind of time commitment are we talking about?

BARBER: I think it varies by president and by style. I would say for my year particularly given that I did have the support of my firm to prioritize it as really my number one priority. At times during the year it has been I would say a full time job, or more than a full time job taking up literally 100% or over 100% of my working time. And then other times during the year it’s not so busy. So it probably varies anywhere from 25% to 100%. Now, I’m not saying it necessarily has to be that way for every president, but that’s the way I’ve held it and that’s the way it’s turned out for me.

QUINN: Now I see, Jeff, why you were saying you have some big shoes to fill.

LEWIS: Exactly.

QUINN: By the time that this gets published I suspect I will have it at least published at the beginning of my look inside AIPLA where I was with Todd for a day and followed him and went to meetings with him and like over to the patent office and so forth. And one of the things that caught me, and you don’t really ever know what goes on behind closed doors until you’re actually being the closed doors. But just the amount of work that goes on in AIPLA from the top, from the board to you guys who are officers all the way down through the staff was staggering. Can you talk a little bit about the people at AIPLA and how the organization works to accomplish the goals the industry, really, we represent the IP industry.

BARBER: First of all, I agree with you. And I don’t want to overstate the role or the importance of the president, the president does a lot. But we have an amazing number of people, very smart, talented, and dedicated people at all levels of the organization that really do the work. And that starts with the staff. We have a pretty large staff. We have, I don’t know the exact number of people on our staff, but it’s somewhere in the 25 range, I believe. Including a number of what we consider executive level people including, you know, if I start naming names I’ll leave people out. But Todd Dickinson and Vince Garlock and Al Tramposch, and Meghan Donohoe, Jim Crowne, Lorri Ragan, Cathleen Clime and Pa Jallow, everyone is just amazing. They are very skilled, very talented folks. Very smart and dedicated to the organization. We also have wonderful talented people on the executive committee, on the board of directors, committee leaders, the chairs and vice-chairs of the committees. And then the members of the committee. So we have a large network of people that are looking at all these issues, doing the groundwork, and really make the organization run. It’s very much a ground up organization. Many of our initiatives start with the committees. They will analyze an issue and bring it up to the board for discussion and action. But then a lot of the work is, as you mentioned, done by the executive staff like Todd and Vince on legislative issues working behind closed doors, on legislative issues responding very rapidly to requests from the Hill for input on various issues. So it’s a very multifaceted organization and complex in some ways. But it runs smoothly because of the dedication and the skill of all the people involved.

QUINN: Jeff, do you have anything you want to add?

LEWIS: We have in our association more than 50 committees. Each of those committees has a chair and a vice-chair. Many of them have subcommittees that have chairs and vice-chairs. All of them have people who are incredibly active in whatever the mandate of that committee is. On top of that we have some committees that are presidential appointment only. So you’re talking about such as the amicus commission, such as the professional appointments committee that comments on people who are nominated for court ascendance and executive appointments. So you’re talking about literally hundreds of people that day in and day out drop whatever they’re doing for a paying client when something comes up at the association that needs attention. And they hop on airplanes and they fly to Geneva to monitor WIPO meetings or they go to Washington to testify in front of Congress. There is such a wonderful and amazing body of incredibly smart, incredibly talented, and incredibly dedicated people that make the association run. But that’s literally hundreds of people. And that association can’t function without a staff who really orchestrates, makes sure everybody’s pulling oars in the same direction and do an amazing job. We have a good size staff, but when you benchmark it against other associations we actually have a small staff on a per member basis. Our staff produces work product and effort and inspires people to do things that, really, they’re to be lauded at every turn. So I think, as Bill put it, from every level of the association if you want to start at Todd as executive director down to our active members, or if you want to talk about our initiative and start at the active members and go in the other direction, we are truly blessed with an association of dedicated, wonderful people at every level.

QUINN: I like what you just said about how the staff really seems to orchestrate. Because that was what I observed. I didn’t really realize how detailed the vetting process is at AIPLA for virtually every issue. And it makes sense when you stop and think about it, but I wonder how many people actually do because you have a lot of members with very diverse interests. For example, if you pick up an AIPLA amicus brief, I read them and it’s like this is just like the Bible on this particular issue. You couldn’t say it any better, it takes a foundational approach to IP. And I always wondered, well, why is that? Am I just always agreeing with the IP, am I predisposed to agree with them? But I have a sense it’s probably the through vetting process where so many people have input and I’d like you guys reaction that if I could.

LEWIS: Bill, do you want to comment?

BARBER: I think, I’ve always been struck by how robust the decision making and policy making process is at AIPLA. We are governed by a board of directors. There are 12 members of the board of directors. They’re elected for 3-year terms so that they’re staggered. There’s an incoming class of four each year. And then we have the five people on the executive committee, and the secretary and the treasurer. So there are a total of 19 people on the board of directors. And we have very, very robust, spirited debates, discussions on these issues when we’re developing a policy or we’re deciding on whether to submit an amicus brief and what position we should take. We have very spirited, sometimes lengthy discussions. You have 19 people in there, very smart people with very different views. We try to have a very diverse group on our board of directors in terms of every aspect that you could think of – geography, practice area, gender, background. So it really makes for a good vehicle to thoroughly discuss an issue from all angles. And I think that helps us really provide thoughtful decision to the policies that we decide to take and the briefs that we decide to file. So that’s part of it.

The other part of it is back to our committees. And a good example is the amicus committee. That’s a presidential appointed committed, as Jeff mentioned. It’s a very select group of people that again we try to be diverse on. We try to have a lot of diversity on that committee. But also people that are really at the top of their profession. Good writers, good litigators on that committee that are able to formulate a recommended position. That committee themselves have very robust debates about the positions as well. So they do that and they bring a recommended position to the board. And then sometimes the board will agree with the amicus committee and sometimes the board won’t. Sometimes the board will decide to take a decision, or take a position that’s different than the amicus committee recommended. So I think it’s a very healthy process and it enables us to formulate very good positions and take a real leadership role in the IP bar on cutting edge issues. Jeff.

LEWIS: One thing Bill mentioned that I think is worth repeating is that every public statement that comes out from AIPLA – and this is something that often shocks people – but every public statement that comes out, be it an amicus brief, be it comments to a federal register notice, be it testimony that someone’s going to present at a hearing or forum or symposium, that all goes through our board of directors, which is the diverse body. And it’s a lot of effort even for the board members to keep up with all the drafts that are floating around. And that’s again part of how the staff orchestrates. Well, perhaps that term sometimes takes on a pejorative sense, a negative sense, so I don’t like the word “orchestrate.” But “coordinates” probably a better word. The staff is not necessarily orchestrating the decision, but it’s coordinating the flow of information back and forth around the board and the various committees. Because everything that’s public comes out from the board. And the nominating committee each year work very hard to make sure the board is diverse. So I think we achieve that consistency through a lot of hard work. Some of our statements, like amicus briefs require a super majority of the board. So sometimes we don’t comment on something or we’ll answer less than all the questions that have been set for briefing. Or we won’t participate at all because we can’t reach that super majority amongst our board for the amicus brief. But the board is really the final arbiter of making sure that the message is consistent.

BARBER: On formulating policies and positions, I neglected to mention the outstanding contributions and expertise we receive from our staff. In particular on amicus briefs. Jim Crowne is just absolutely invaluable in helping us understand very complex issues, complex cases, and providing input to us and advice to us in terms of past decisions that may affect the case. He’s sort of a walking encyclopedia of IP cases. He’s just extremely knowledgeable, extremely smart, extremely thorough. And then also has sort of calm demeanor and is able to analyze cases and complex issues in a very logical way. And then on the legislative side and in working with the United States Patent and Trademark Office on rules packages and things like that, Todd and Vince Garlock and Al Tramposch are invaluable. And Todd, obviously, he’s a former Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office so he knows the USPTO very well. Vince used to work on Capitol Hill. Al used to work at the USPTO. So those people in particular are true experts at these issues and so they really, really contribute to helping the board develop policies and positions.

QUINN: And I didn’t mean to use the word “orchestrate” in a negative connotation, because when I heard you talking there, Jeff, I also, I thought about that wasn’t exactly what I observed. But the thing that struck me was how the staff has got a lot of moving pieces and parts and they’re constantly trying to put things together in a format that then they can push out to whether it’s the board or whether it’s a committee or they get something from a committee and then they move it to the right people internally and then externally. They get comments and then kind of move the process back and forth until you come to some kind of an understanding, okay, this is what we’re comfortable and we’ll go with this. And it seems like in some of these cases this happens enormously, enormously fast. How is it that you guys manage to stay on top of everything that’s going on because any more it seems in our space which used to be kind of slow, dead, not very quick moving in terms of changes is evolving enormously rapidly?

BARBER: Well, you’re right [Laughter] yeah, certainly—

QUINN: Have you guys figured out how to squeeze more than 24 hours out of a day?

BARBER: Well, certainly we’re juggling a lot of balls and spinning a lot of plates all at once. We have to rely heavily on the staff to stay on top of things, deadlines, following up with people or committees or board members or officers to make sure that they’re providing the input that’s needed. I think each president has to come up with their own system to try to stay on top of it, but I literally keep a list of all issues, activities that we’re involved in and underneath each activity I try to keep track of where it is and what the deadline is and what needs to be done. And very often probably on a daily basis I’ll go through that list and check things off if they’ve been done, or if they haven’t been done follow up with people and see what needs to be done. So that is a challenging task. But fortunately if I drop the ball on something usually Vince or Al or Todd or Jim will pick it up and get me back on track.

LEWIS: In the time we’ve been talking my secretary’s walked in two phone messages from AIPLA staff. It is not a joke. The volume of email is amazing. At the moment I’m probably trending at about 200 emails a day related to AIPLA alone.

QUINN: Oh, my goodness.

LEWIS: That’s incoming and outgoing. Yeah, combined incoming and outgoing. The breadth of issues that can hit you in any 15 minute period can be everything from an international issue to a register of copyright notice in the Federal Register to something on Capitol Hill with trademark legislation. And then something hits on PCT WIPO from Geneva. And that can be in a 15 minute period. It’s really an amazing breadth of issues and you become frankly more knowledgeable with every one of those issues that hits. That’s probably the thing I’m going to miss the most is not knowing as many different topics and information flows going on. But I’m going to be happy to see the email flow go down. Fortunately for me that’s much further out than for Bill.

CLICK TO CONTINUE READING…   In Part II of the interview we begin discussing the growing assault on intellectual property rights.


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