Robert M. Newbury Partner
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Yale Law School (L.L.B., 1959)
Carleton College (B.A., 1953)

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Robert M. Newbury

How has IP law changed during the time that you’ve been practicing?
The principal change is that more businesses have come to realize how important their IP assets are. Certainly, at the beginning of my practice, fewer attached importance to their company name and brand. Now, almost every business does, even small businesses. Even start-up companies understand that the name of their company and product will have a substantial value and require protection. And they realize that if they pick a name that isn’t available, they’ll start out their business by being sued.

What drew you to IP law?
It wasn’t as dramatic as you might think. I was in law school, and interviewed with the then-senior partner, William Woodson, who offered me a job. I didn’t think I’d like it, but I took a course to find out. I really enjoyed the subject matter, so I accepted the offer when I graduated. Since I’m still here–almost 50 years later–I think I made the right choice!

What appeals to you about it?
Initially, it was intellectually interesting to me. I certainly didn’t understand at the outset that this was going to be a trial practice. Unlike so many students coming out of school, I wasn’t focused on being a trial lawyer. But IP law involves a great deal of litigation. I stumbled into that aspect, was good at it and it turned out that I love it.

What was your favorite case?
Wow. I would have trouble picking just one. I had a favorite year when I tried three cases, and lost them all. But every one was reversed on appeal. That was an amazing, exhausting, and exhilarating time.

One of those cases made law in the right of publicity for Johnny Carson. A man was using “Here’s Johnny” for portable toilets and Carson didn’t like it. He came to me to stop it and we filed suit. We lost the trial, because the judge didn’t think that the phrase was part of his right of publicity because it wasn’t his name. The Court of Appeals disagreed, and the law changed as a result of that opinion.

How did Pattishall’s team approach to practice develop?
That developed even before I arrived. I give Beverly Pattishall credit for that. Instead of giving me a stack of low-level assignments, I was put on teams working on big cases the day that I arrived. It’s a great approach: Everyone learns from everyone else. It keeps the senior people with experience in charge but gives junior people real experience, helps them to hone their skills and judgment, uses support personal who are experienced, and it keeps the cost reasonable for the client.

What lessons have you learned from mentoring so many young lawyers?
Young lawyers want to learn. For the last five years, that’s most of what I’ve done. Some law firms don’t spend the time any more mentoring younger lawyers, but we do. It’s good for the firm, good for the clients, and good for the profession. When a junior lawyer watches you in action, not only does he or she learn professionalism, but you also are constantly reminded that you are setting an example.

If you could change one thing about the practice of law, what would it be?
Civility. Too many lawyers have lost their manners and skate too close to ethical lines. You can be aggressive and remain civil to your opponent. They aren’t mutually exclusive

Tell me about a time when you suddenly had a “Perry Mason?”moment that decided a case.
It happened twice, both during jury trials. In one case, the other side had submitted a transcript of a radio ad. Based on that transcript, they had witnesses who claimed to be confused about which company’s ad it was. But when we played the ad for the jury, it was clear they had left out a full line of the ad transcript. It completely changed the meaning and destroyed the testimony of those witnesses. The jury understood what had happened immediately and lost sympathy for the other side. We won the case.

The other example was a jury trial in Virginia. The principal of the other side changed his testimony from his deposition to the trial. I was able to ask one of those great questions: “Are you lying now or were you lying then?” The jury was finished with the man, and our client won the case.

How would your clients and colleagues describe you as a lawyer?
I hope they would describe me as aggressive but fair.

How have you built relationships with clients that have lasted for years?
I’ve gotten clients every possible way. Sometimes, I took over clients when other lawyers retired. With those clients, I had to build a personal relationship so they knew that they could rely on me.

Some clients are sent to me by opposing counsel. If we respect one another, when they can’t represent a client, they send them to me.

Often, in-house counsel will change companies, and they want me to represent their new company.

The main thing is for your name to be known and respected. If people know that you are respected in the field, they will come to you.