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Setting the legal tone at Brooks Kushman: (front row, l-r) Frank Angileri; Mark Cantor; and James Kushman; (back row) Robert C.J. Tuttle and John Nemazi.

Photo by Paul Janczewski

IP firm reaches a milestone in its 30th anniversary year

By Paul Janczewski
Legal News

In 1983, five young-ish progressive attorneys split from a conservative firm to begin anew, heavily laced in the patent and intellectual property disciplines. It was called Brooks Kushman.

Less than a year later, at a company retreat, the firm’s founders wrote down their short — and long-term goals — doubling in size; attract major clients; provide the most dynamic and skillful practice, faster, cheaper and better than anyone else; and to become the numero uno patent and IP firm in Michigan with the most attorneys.

Fast forward to 2013, and call it “mission accomplished.”

“We’ve finally just achieved that,” said Mark Cantor, president and co-founder of the Southfield firm.

In April, Brooks Kushman was recognized by Crain’s Detroit Business magazine as the largest IP firm in Michigan, based on the number of attorneys. The firm has more than 70 attorneys and patent agents.

Cantor said he was just several years out of law school when he and others left to form their own firm. Made a partner, Cantor hoped for the best for the new entity. It’s safe to say he made that hope a reality. Brooks Kushman has been a go-to firm for years in the IP field, adding diverse, hungry and skilled professionals along the way while growing not only in numbers of lawyers, but also in satisfied clients and successful cases, according to Cantor. The icing on the cake in the firm’s 30th anniversary is being named the biggest.

“And we’re very proud of that,” Cantor said.

He was named president in 2007, and has seen the company grow from five attorneys and three secretaries to more than 150 lawyers, staff and other professional employees, as well as opening an office in Los Angeles.

“We have a lot of people who have been here a long, long time,” Cantor said, some for more than 25 years.

In fact, all the founders are still there, except for Ernie L. Brooks, who was tragically killed in a car crash in 2007.

“We stay together,” Cantor said, citing it as a key reason for the firm’s success. “We have our disagreements, just like any business, but we find a way to work through it and stay together.”

Although Cantor said the firm has no goals to reach a certain size, it has strived to become a place where people like coming to work everyday and perform “really good, high-quality work.” Besides overseeing steady growth and a number of prestigious clients, including several on the Fortune 100 companies list, Cantor and the founders have been out front in the hiring of women and minorities, and has had a chief diversity officer in place for years. The company has been involved in a number of charities and other ways of giving back to the community as well, sponsoring civic events and programs.

Jim Kushman, chairman, CEO and co-founder of the firm, said that growth evolved, “and now we want to be a nationally and internationally recognized name in providing IP services.” When asked to look back over the past 30 years and name a few highlights, Kushman laughs.

“Oh, my gosh, there were so many along the way,” he said.

He ticks off a few — hiring women as its first two attorneys brought on board, and a 1988 merger that added attorneys and vast experience. But what allows Brooks Kushman to stay on top is “providing efficient, good legal services,” he said.

“The biggest problem is trying to get the work all done,” he said with a smile. “We just keep going at it, showing up everyday and keep doing it.”

According to its website, the firm specializes in counsel and litigation on IP, technology-related and commercial matters around the globe. The firm’s expertise spans the entire range of IP and commercial matters, and their attorneys and technical people have experience in scientific and engineering disciplines, including chemistry, pharmaceutical development, computer technology, electronics, and mechanical engineering.

The client list spans the spectrum of businesses — automotive, chemical, computer, electrical, food and beverage, and more. Brooks Kushman has successfully tried and litigated many cases, and secured a $133 million jury verdict against Microsoft and Autodesk, according to Kushman.

The firm has changed and grown with the times, Kushman said.

“When I started in the 1960s, every patent was either invalid for some antitrust or inequitable conduct reason,” he said. “We weren’t even IP attorneys, we were patent attorneys.”

He said the pendulum has swung now towards protecting IP.

“And because (our firm) can handle all types of IP matters, we send things to the people who can handle it best,” Kushman said.

Their attorneys and agents are often skilled in not only the entire range of IP matters, but also often hold a variety of advanced technical and business degrees.

Frank A. Angileri, a shareholder who has been with the firm for 20 years, returned to Michigan after working for judge in Washington, D.C. “because I wanted to find the best IP firm in Michigan, and this was it.”

He said the 30th anniversary is a “testament to the folks who started and built (Brooks Kushman), and to those who have joined the firm since then and kept it going.” Angileri sees IP work only growing in the future. And as the firm continues to grow, it also increases its desire to give back to the community. He said many attorneys give back individually, as well as being involved in the firm’s pro bono efforts and community activities. He is involved in a program at Wayne State University where selected students are awarded a partial scholarship their first year and given practical experience at the firm.

Shareholder Robert C.J. Tuttle, who joined the firm in 1984, said its success can be attributed to “all of us trying to be team players” and its growth traced to “a drive to be successful” in a world where technology has become more valuable.

The firm’s three areas of activity — patent prosecution, litigation and trademark administration — are headed by teams, Tuttle said, with each team guided by a leader to standardize the practice.
“So everybody works together under a common set of principles and guidelines,” he said. “We have another generation of very strong attorneys coming on who will ascend to leadership positions in the firm. It’s been enjoyable working here, and everyday is a challenge, so you look forward to coming to work. It’s not stress free, but it’s also the satisfaction of doing a good job.”

Shareholder John E. Nemazi joined the firm in 1988 as part of a merger and has been instrumental in Brooks Kushman’s growth, bringing his talents to the firm as an inventor. He said the firm hires specialists and experts in the various fields of IP law.

“In our firm, you don’t have to be good at everything, but you better be really good at something,” he said. “We try to get people with good technical backgrounds, and not have people work outside their comfort zones.”

And with Brooks Kushman’s wide range of expertise, Nemazi said the firm can offer “a much better job at a much better price.”

“And that’s one of the reasons we’ve been successful,” he said.

He also credits the interplay between the groups as a reason for its success.

“We have a good balance between patent prosecution, litigation, and trademark and copyright law and IP will continue to be important for a long time,” Nemazi said. “I don’t see it slowing down.”

He also sees growth in work on the foreign front as well.

Shareholder John LeRoy said changes over the last five to eight years bode well for the future of IP law, and said Brooks Kushman is well positioned to embrace those changes by building rapport and relationships with patent offices nearby.

“It creates a unique synergy that we think distinguishes us,” he said.

And with the firm’s copyright team, LeRoy said “we have a full practice of trained professionals that are equipped to perform and give clients written opinion, and are prepared to do that heavy lifting on a regular basis.”

Cantor said he often talks to people at other IP firms, comparing notes, and said there is always tension between the various groups within a firm, but he’s been able to successfully work around problems at Brooks Kushman by allowing each division to have it voice heard.

“That’s really the most important thing in keep firm together and growing as cohesive units,” he said.

The successes at the firm, its wide-ranging lawyers and agents, and dedicated staff would mean nothing without its client base, Cantor said.

“And clients stay with us,” he said, a testament to its growth and the firm’s future. “In our business, while marketing and advertising is important, most of your business comes from word of mouth, from satisfied customers who call others. We really care about our clients. It’s not just a job to us. At the end of the day, its all about the quality of the work.”