Photo provided by Cooley LLP
Cooley LLP (then Cooley Godward) knew it had added serious depth to its litgation practice in 2005 when it acquired Steven M. Strauss for its San Diego office. Strauss had chaired the litigation department of Procopio Cory Hargreaves & Savitch, where he already counted technology company Qualcomm as a regular client. His practice focusing on complex business and intellectual property litigation has thrived at the national platform, where he continues to handle a diverse range of interesting legal matters for Qualcomm and other clients.
[Update posted on March 29: His success at trial continued earlier this month. Strauss led a Cooley team that successfully defended San Diego businessman Ernest Rady against more than $200M in damages sought by family members. A March 21 news story of the case is here.]
Lawdragon: You have represented Qualcomm in a number of high-profile cases. Can you discuss how this relationship began, or what was the first matter you handled for them?
Steven M. Strauss: The first significant case that I worked on for Qualcomm was defending the company in a series of class action lawsuits in the late 1990s resulting from the sale of its infrastructure division to Ericsson. We were successful in getting those cases dismissed. That led to more work for Qualcomm and caused me to realize I needed a larger firm with more resources to handle the Qualcomm work and grow the relationship.
At that time, I was leading the business litigation practice at San Diego-based Procopio Cory Hargreaves & Savitch. During the Qualcomm class action litigation I met several Cooley San Diego partners, was very impressed by them and was introduced to the “Cooley culture.” A big reason I joined Cooley was to do more Qualcomm work and to be able to try the largest and most complex civil litigation cases where I would have a national footprint with access to more resources, and skill sets than my previous firm.
LD: Can you also talk about some of the challenges of simultaneously handling multiple complex cases with long-term and global implications? For example, in 2008 and 2009 Qualcomm reached settlements in separate cases with Nokia and Broadcom that involved multi-year deals involving complex technologies. It must have taken a deep understanding of the client’s technologies while also seeing into the future about what arrangements make long-term business sense.
SMS: I enjoy handling complex business cases involving different subject matters and disciplines. In order to effectively litigate intellectual property and technology licensing cases you have to understand the client's business model, their patent portfolio and how their patents are applied to products in the U.S. and around the world. For the Nokia and Broadcom cases, I had to learn about the parties’ patents and their licensing agreements. Nokia was an existing Qualcomm licensee while Broadcom was not. In addition to patent and licensing issues the cases also presented antitrust issues claiming that Qualcomm’s licensing practices violated antitrust laws. Nokia claimed that Qualcomm was in violation of its FRAND commitment (i.e., to license on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms) to ETSI (The European Standards body) by charging unreasonable royalties even though Nokia had agreed to the royalty rate in its license agreement with Qualcomm. The FRAND issue was a matter of first impression.
Another complicating factor was that Qualcomm’s standard license agreement contains a most favored license provision. Every time Qualcomm enters into a new license agreement or extends a license, Qualcomm has to be very careful to ensure it doesn’t trigger the most favored license provision in one of their other license agreements.
As to Broadcom, Cooley was retained after a cease and desist order had been entered against Qualcomm by the International Trade Commission. Cooley tried the largest enforcement proceeding (at the time) in the International Trade Commission involving a design around that Qualcomm implemented following the cease and desist order. The trial of the design around and a favorable Federal Circuit ruling on certain aspects of the cease and desist order shifted the momentum toward reaching a settlement with Broadcom.
LD: You also have represented Qualcomm and many other clients in a wide range of cases. Did you ever expect to focus on a specific type of case, such as IP, or have you always wanted to keep a diverse litigation practice?
SMS: I’m a business litigator and a trial lawyer, so I enjoy trying cases. I have never lost a trial in 30 years of practice. I have always enjoyed litigating disputes involving complex business issues where the stakes are high. I enjoy working on cases that deal with intellectual property, real property and corporate litigation involving breaches of fiduciary duty and shareholder derivative actions. I really love what I do because I get to work on cases with different subject matters. It’s challenging and rewarding to learn a new subject matter and then have to explain it to a Judge, jury, elected or administrative body so that they are able to understand the topic.
LD: Your undergraduate degree was in literature and political science. When and how did you develop an interest in becoming a litigator?
SMS: I always knew I wanted to be a litigator. I think I was propelled in this direction at an early age by my family. My father was a successful debater in college, but due to finances he wasn’t able to go to law school. He eventually became a successful real estate developer.
I was a champion debater in high school and was recruited to Georgetown, which had the best debate program in the country.
LD: Earlier in your career, was there a mentor that you feel was key in developing a successful litigation and trial practice?
SMS: Growing up, my dad’s lawyer was Emmanuel "Manny" Savitch, who was a named partner at Procopio. Manny was very colorful and successful. His clients were his friends and he was a larger-than-life litigator. I greatly admired that quality and have tried to emulate those traits. He recruited me to Procopio directly out of law school. In part, thanks to Manny, I have been trying cases from a very early age and have successfully tried more than 25 jury trials.
LD: You have a long history of trial experience. How do you, or how does Cooley, make sure that young lawyers get similar experience and training?
SMS: We teach in the trenches and give young lawyers as much experience as possible. We get them involved in large cases where they can learn and be mentored by senior lawyers. I also look for opportunities to take on smaller cases they can handle on their own, where they are on the front line and making their own decisions. I am a big believer in giving a young attorney as much responsibility as they can handle and then seeing if they seize that opportunity or if the challenge frightens them and they back off. That tells me a lot.
LD: I also see that you have been involved with the La Jolla Playhouse. How did this come about — have you always had an interest in the theater?
SMS: Yes. I started out as a Political Science major and added English Literature as a second major because I always loved reading and writing and wanted to improve my writing. When I came back to San Diego after law school to start practicing in 1981, I greatly enjoyed the performances at the Playhouse. They produced several original musicals, including Big River, which eventually made it to Broadway and won a Tony. I was recruited to the board by Joan Jacobs (wife of Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs) and eventually became the Board Chair, where I led a $30 million capital campaign, built a new state of the art theater and hired the artistic and managing directors.
The La Jolla Playhouse produced the Tony Award winning musical “Jersey Boys” while I was Board Chair. I love the fact that the playhouse produces work by new American artists. I have seen great similarities between the courtroom and stage over the course of my career.