Editor: Please tell our readers about your practice.
Needle: Our firm's practice is devoted exclusively to intellectual property (IP) law, which includes patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and IP litigation, as well as licensing. We represent a wide variety of national and international small, medium-size and large companies, ranging from the Cabbage Patch Kids®"babies" to the National Institutes of Health - from dolls to DNA.
Editor: How does it benefit Ballard Spahr to have a Southeast location, particularly one in Atlanta?
Needle: The Atlanta office provides Ballard Spahr with a gateway into the South, strengthening their East Coast presence and providing national coverage for their clients who are well served by all of the firm's offices across the country.
Editor: How does it benefit your clients to have a powerhouse-type firm in support of your services to them?
Needle: It helps in a number of ways. For the client we are able to provide more one-stop shopping services. For example, for our university clients - we provide the intellectual property component while non-IP Ballard Spahr attorneys can service their other needs, such as health care or employee benefits.
Editor: How will you coordinate your practice with Ballard Spahr's IP practice in Philadelphia and other offices? Will you be able to take on larger assignments than previously from some of your firms?
Needle: We look forward to coordinating our practice with Ballard Spahr's existing IP practice, such as in Washington, D.C. where we have a very substantial trademark practice and in Philadelphia where we have several copyright and trademark attorneys and intellectual property litigators. In this modern age with video conferencing, as an example, the Ballard Spahr IP team will appear seamless to the client. We will also be able to handle larger litigation assignments because we'll be able to draw from the resources of the excellent Ballard Spahr IP litigators in other cities.
Editor: Do you envision that your office will always be an IP shop or do you think it will expand into other practice areas in Atlanta?
Needle: It is envisioned that the Atlanta office will be the hub of the intellectual property practice for the firm, but there will be other intellectual property attorneys added to other offices throughout the Ballard Spahr network. It is contemplated that, at some time in the future, there will be non-IP lawyers in the Atlanta office, but they will be complementary to the intellectual property services that we offer. For instance, it would make sense to have corporate lawyers as part of our team to be available for IP counseling and due diligence.
Editor: Are your lawyers primarily involved in patent prosecution or patent litigation or other aspects of IP such as trademarks and copyrights?
Needle: The majority of our attorneys are involved in patent prosecution, but we have at least five attorneys who are dedicated to litigation in all areas of intellectual property. We have an extremely talented group of patent specialists, including an MD, nine Ph.D.'s and two with Master's degrees. Also, there is a cross-over by the prosecutors into other practice groups; for instance, the litigation group very frequently seeks aid from one or more of those lawyers to help them with the technology in a particular litigation. We also have attorneys in the Atlanta office with significant trademark and copyright experience, and this will be supplemented by the attorneys already at Ballard Spahr who practice in these areas.
Editor: The Internet has opened a whole new world for IP services and licensing services. How much of your practice is focused in this area? What particular issues are coming to the fore?
Needle: The Internet is rife with numerous intellectual property issues covering the wide gamut of services that we offer, such as: patent litigation involving web-based methods of doing business; copyright issues involving a claim that there is infringing copyrightable subject matter on a web page and domain name disputes.
Editor: Patent law has recently not favored the patent-owner, especially in the KSR case (making it harder for companies to obtain and enforce patents ) and the E-Bay case (making it more difficult for a patent-owner to obtain an injunction against a non-competitor). Do you think the pendulum will swing the other way?
Needle: The pendulum has swung now to where patents are being scrutinized much more carefully than they have been in the past. The Supreme Court has been involved in more patent cases in the last five years than probably in the last 20-30 years. KSR has raised the standards to apply in obtaining a patent, but, if on the other hand, you do obtain a patent in this post- KSR world, the chances of its being found to be valid in litigation are much higher as well since the invention has passed a stricter standard in gaining patentability. I don't know when, or if, the pendulum might swing back to a more expansive view of what is patentable.
Editor: In what jurisdictions do you normally contest your patent cases? Are there any jurisdictions that still offer a rocket-docket?
Needle: We currently have and have had patent infringement cases in federal courts throughout the country. The Eastern District of Virginia is a tried and true rocket-docket still today. The Eastern District of Texas may be the victim of its own "success" in that there are so many cases being filed there that it is no longer considered a "rocket-docket." Atlanta is not considered a rocket-docket, but we, along with other federal courts throughout the country, have local patent rules which set out certain schedules that have to be followed which have helped to shorten the timeline of patent litigation through the court.
Editor: What do you think is the future for people who are patent trolls? Have the cases made it more difficult for them, or easier?
Needle: The KSR and E-Bay decisions are new, powerful decisions for defendants in infringement cases brought by trolls. These cases change the playing field, particularly with regard to their being able to obtain injunctive relief, thereby weakening the trolls' leverage.
Editor: What in your opinion are the elements that should go into a model patent law for the U.S.?
Needle: I am basically in favor of patent legislation as proposed by the ABA Patent Law Reform Task Force, which promotes, among other things, adopting the first-inventor-to-file principle, repeal of the "best mode" requirement, setting forth a clearer standard of what constitutes inequitable conduct to limit the application of that allegation as a defense, and adopting a post-grant opposition procedure for an issued patent.
Editor: In what ways do you expect to grow your Atlanta practice over the next five years?
Needle: We plan to grow in almost every area. Even before our merger with Ballard Spahr, we saw a growing demand for our services, and I'm sure it will be amplified with so many opportunities now being opened up to us as a result of the merger.