Photo provided Novak Druce

Photo provided Novak Druce

On Sept. 19, 2012, the partnerships of Houston-based Novak Druce + Quigg and Wilmington, Del.-based Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz announced that they have voted to enter exclusive merger discussions with one another. Subject to final discussions, the merger of the two intellectual property firms will become effective in January. The combined firm will create the seventh-largest intellectual property boutique in the country, according to Novak Druce managing partner Gregory Novak.

“I believe combining Novak Druce’s experience in re-examinations with Connolly Bove’s strength in litigation will create a formidable, mid-size firm with superior client service,” Novak said.

LD: How do you anticipate the merger to affect your personal practice?

GN: The merger should simply make me wish even more for each day to be 48 hours long. With our added depth and a solid broad-based litigation team in place, I think that my role now as managing partner of about 140 lawyers will take some adjustment. I will be working to integrate the attorneys from both firms, as well as personally become involved in litigation at a higher level, which will be a role similar to what I did before we started our focused, litigation-driven, post-grant practice.

We will continue to build our leading post-grant practice of course, and still a solid half of our firm will be prosecution. But we will now have the ability to serve larger client matters and to expand into other industries, such a pharmaceuticals. I anticipate that the next several years will reinforce my belief that my car is the cabin of a plane and my home the offices of our clients. This will be fun.

LD: How about the leadership of the combined firm and the day-to-day operations - how are those going to change?

GN: The combined firm will be known as Novak Druce Connolly Bove + Quigg LLP, and it will be headquartered in Houston. We will also have offices in Silicon Valley, San Francisco and West Palm Beach, Fla., as well as Connolly Bove's offices in Wilmington and Los Angeles. Both firms currently have Washington, D.C., offices that will be consolidated into the Novak Druce office space. I will remain as managing partner, and the co-executive managing partners will be Tracy Druce and Bill McShane.  Novak Druce's Barbara Preston will be the COO and she will be joined by Frank Stransky as our CFO. The Executive Committee will have ten regular members, six from Novak Druce and four from Connolly Bove, and two senior advisory members - Don Quigg, a former Commissioner of Patents, and Jeff Bove.

LD: Can you give us a brief history of your own firm and how you started it?

GN: As it stands today, the firm of Novak Druce + Quigg is on version 2.0. Upon graduating law school, Tracy Druce, Neal Burt and I, as the old guy and out of school for two years, decided it would be interesting to open our own firm. We did not realize that opening an intellectual property law firm in Lubbock, Texas, was not a typical move, even though contemporaries, who were also starting their own firms, were doing criminal and personal injury law. For us, we saw there was little to no competition and it was just different enough that we attracted attention. We focused on intellectual property law and federal litigation. And like our personal injury friends we advertised in the yellow pages and had an 800 number, which is how we won our first $1 million fee case. We represented an Italian amusement ride maker against a German competitor, and the case was based in Washington, D.C. This was also our first major exposure to a foreign client involving heavy travel. At the same time, the bulk of our litigation cases were located around the U.S., with very few in our home state.

Around the year 2000, we were told by a major automaker client that we were selling ourselves short by being in Texas as a small firm, so we packed up and moved to Washington, D.C. and eventually joined Howrey LLP, where we were happy partners and learned the ropes of a big firm practice and client management. At the end of 2004 Tracy Druce and I left Howrey and, together with four others, launched our current firm. Thankfully, not only did our clients follow, but also within a year about 12 others joined us and we were off and running.

LD: Your firm has grown quite a bit in the last few years. Where do you attribute the growth, and are IP boutiques back in fashion?

GN: We think the growth is based on the high level of personal service we give each client. We also have really smart, hard-working people who want to solve their clients’ problems. I believe that we are also able to grow at a faster pace since our core team has worked together and known each other for so long. Don Quigg has been a friend of ours since he left the Patent Office as Commissioner under George H. W. Bush. The firm’s administrative partner Matt Todd has been a part of this since the mid-1990s when he was in law school. Hank Petri, who co-heads our litigation department, and I have known each other since our first day of college where we were hall mates. Bill Towns and I have known each other since he was a first-year lawyer in the firm where I worked during my freshman college year as a file clerk.

LD: You got an MBA from Oxford University’s Said Business School soon after graduating from Rice University. So what led you to patent law?

GN: I chose IP law because truthfully I thought it was easy and I could touch the subject matter. It has gotten a bit more difficult and many things that we do now you cannot or would not want to touch.

I actually earned my MBA about 20 years after graduating from Rice. I went back to school because I was frustrated that for years some clients and potential clients would discount or second guess some of the more global IP strategies that we would put forth, and would have our strategies reviewed by MBA consultants. One Sunday I was reading the Financial Times and there was an article on MBA programs. On that particular day I was irritated with one of the big consulting practices that we were working with on a joint client project and I decided that I needed to get an MBA. For me, Oxford was the logical and only choice because of its international reputation, which is important to our clients — both domestically and abroad. Earning my MBA has furthered our ability to deal with client issues in the IP space. The firm now employs eight other Oxford MBAs, and we continue to send more every year. We have also funded a research center at Oxford University directed to the study of professional service firms.

LD: What made you focus on patent reexamination?

GN: We saw patent reexamination as an opportunity after the success of the reexamination against NTP that we handled for Research in Motion (RIM) in the big fight between them. We were the first to use litigation skills and drive reexaminations based on litigation versus the old standard of simply having a patent prosecutor handle the case. We felt that in the future, reexaminations would play a key role in patent litigation — and, lucky for us, our decision was correct. We always enjoyed the invalidity side of a case, and reexaminations allowed us to really attack a patent that was without value.

Likewise, about two years ago we felt the next big push would be when reexams hit the appeal stage. As these are contentious we decided to build an appeals group tailored for this special market so we courted and landed Judge Michael O’Neill. He, along with Hank Petri, Janelle Waack and James Murphy, handles our growing practice in this area. So far this year on contentious appeals before the Board we are one of the firms that most often appears to argue — so again, thankfully, our call was solid and we have now a nationally recognized specialty in this area as well.

Now, as the American Invents Act (AIA) and inter partes review takes the stage we are planning to tackle this the same way we built our reexamination practice. Suni Sukduang, one of my partners who has been with our reexamination practice from the start, and I work daily on strategy and getting our clients ready for this new fast-track proceeding. Partners Andrew Weaver and Brian McKnight are also working on the patent prosecution and patent owner strategy under the AIA.

LD: Have high-ticket patent acquisitions in the high-tech and mobile industry affected your practice?

GN: These have simply lead to much more work in due diligence, managing major portfolios and assisting clients in extracting value through coordinated portfolio prosecution and development, as well as reviewing entire portfolios for monetizing purposes on behalf of the client.

LD: U.S. patent reform often moves at a glacial pace. If there’s going to be any change at all in the near future, what do you foresee that would be?

GN: With all that the AIA has brought, I think major changes are years away. For now, however, the concentration will be on shoring up and doing quick fixes to the long awaited AIA as new issues crop up and the laws simply get tweaked.

LD: What do you do for fun?

GN: Swimming at midnight on New Years in some shark-infested ocean and outrunning beach security is a bit fun — and so far no shark bites! Also teaching bartenders in the South Pacific how to make a proper margarita. I'm always looking to expand the truth, as I know it.