Rest in Peace Friend: Remembering Donald Dunner

Donald DunnerIt is with great sadness that I write today on the occasion of the passing of a true legend in the patent world. Donald Dunner, a partner in Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP in Washington, D.C., passed away earlier today.

“Don was a great lawyer and a wonderful man. He also gave enormously of himself, and his time, to our profession and its organizations,” said Todd Dickinson, former Director of the USPTO and current Senior Counsel at Polsinelli.  “It was a genuine privilege to work with him on many issues and to count him as a friend.”

Indeed, aside from the many legal accolades Dunner so rightfully earned during his lifetime, he was as good and nice a person as he was an excellent attorney. Perhaps that shouldn’t be remarkable, but Dunner always had a grace and elegance that set him apart. He was a friend to judges and politicians, as well as a mentor to countless attorneys.

“I have known and liked him since I was 5,” said Bob Stoll, former Commissioner for Patents at the USPTO and current partner with Drinker Biddle. “He was a leader in the community and a wonderful person. He will be greatly missed by his wife, Jennie Sue, and two daughters and three grandchildren. But he will also be missed by all he touched.  Even though he lived a long and wonderful life, I am deeply saddened by his passing.”

I had the opportunity to get to know Don over the past decade, as a relatively younger member of the profession trying to make a name for myself. They say you can learn a lot about how someone treats those without money, power or influence, and at a time that I had neither money, nor power, nor influence, Dunner took the time to get to know me, and was one of my earliest interviews. Over the years Dunner would engage me in thoughtful conversations at events and meetings around town, always encouraging me to keep doing what I was doing, albeit sometimes giving me a different perspective. He was a true gentleman, an example of what a professional should be to so many of us younger attorneys trying to make our way, and a mentor to far more than those who call themselves alumni of the Finnegan, Henderson firm.

For those who did not know Dunner well, it is probably easiest and most accurate to simply say that Don Dunner was a true icon in the field of patent law. Dunner, among the most prominent appellate advocates in the patent world, was as highly respected as an advocate could possibly be. At event after event, conference after conference, whenever the topic turned to good appellate advocacy judge after judge would cite Dunner as the gold standard. And that he was – by a mile. If Dunner said something during an oral argument it was true, he could be trusted, he built a legacy on being honest, having integrity, and always giving the client the absolute best representation, he could.

Dunner was the creator of the Finnegan, Henderson niche Federal Circuit appellate practice, and he was very good at what he did. If you had an appeal before the Federal Circuit your first call either was, or should have been, to Don Dunner.

Among his many accolades, Dunner was recognized as one of the 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America and an Intellectual Property Trailblazer by the National Law Journal.  A recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award, The American Lawyer named him as “one of the world’s leading experts on patent law.” In 2010, he was inducted into IAM’s IP Hall of Fame. Dunner also served on the ABA Board of Governors and its House of Delegates. He also argued more Federal Circuit cases than any other litigator in the United States, and he literally wrote the textbook on Federal Circuit practice and procedure.

Dunner will be missed by many, and even as his legacy will live on in the many lives he touched, it is hard to imagine anyone filling his shoes. He was truly one-of-a-kind.

Rest in peace friend.



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Join the Discussion

6 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Jonathan Stroud]
    Jonathan Stroud
    October 17, 2019 05:41 pm

    He was a very good man.

  • [Avatar for Michael Cicero]
    Michael Cicero
    October 17, 2019 01:08 pm

    This is indeed the passing of a true legend. I remember presenters recognizing him at patent law conferences. Condolences to his family, his friends, and to all his current and former colleagues at Finnegan.

  • [Avatar for Paul F. Morgan]
    Paul F. Morgan
    October 17, 2019 12:28 pm

    I’m one of the many patent attorneys privileged to have some engagements with Don in the AIPLA or in his litigation. [In my case especially re the elimination of interferences.]
    Don was THE expert on CCPA and Fed. Cir. appeals and argued more than anyone else ever will given the number of patent litigators now having so greatly expanded.
    His great regular advice [so often ignored] included not appealing patent application rejections to that level if the record below can be improved with added evidence in a continuation. Also, not appearing before the Fed. Cir. w/o having memorized the D.C. or PTO record below – something he could do regularly, which is definitely not easy.

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    October 17, 2019 11:38 am

    He was a smart, decent person. Extremely rare these days.

  • [Avatar for Paul Cole]
    Paul Cole
    October 17, 2019 10:19 am

    Saddened and distressed by this news. I met Don many times during his visits to the UK and also during visits to the US and had the utmost respect for him as one of the leading figures in our profession. Please pass on my sincere sympathy to his family.

  • [Avatar for Renee C. Quinn]
    Renee C. Quinn
    October 16, 2019 04:56 pm

    He certainly was a gentleman. He was always so professional and classy, yet at the same time, personable and humble. It has been an honor to know him and to be able to interact with him the few times I was able to. Rest in peace Don. You will be missed by many!