Spokane-based Lee & Hayes PLLC, a top-ranked intellectual property law firm that represents some of the worlds largest technology companies, including Microsoft Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., says it has added seven attorneys in the past year, has expanded its services, and is considering opening offices in India and China soon.
In a little more than a decade, the firm has grown from two attorneys who worked from their homes here to 35 attorneys who work at offices in Seattle, Denver, and downtown Spokane, says Lewis Lee, its co-founder. As demand for intellectual property rights protectionespecially involving software productsstarted growing near the end of the 1990s, so did the firm, Lee says. Lee & Hayes now not only works with clients in the software field, but also in the health-care, telecommunications, and financial-services industries.
Our growth has been client driven, Lee says. Were continuing to diversify our client base and services, and are exploring our international options.
Lee & Hayes main office is located in a 20,000-square-foot space on the fifth floor of the Paulsen Center, at 421 W. Riverside. About 27 attorneys work in that office, while seven of the firms attorneys are based in Seattle and one works in Denver, Lee says. The firm plans to hire more attorneys in the future, but at a slower pace than it has over the past few years. Including attorneys, the firm employs a total of about 58 people, he says. It opened its Seattle office in 2003 and its Denver office in 2002. Lee declines to disclose its annual billings.
Intellectual property, or IP law, deals with a legal entitlement that sometimes attaches to the expressed form of an idea, or to some other intangible subject matter, such as in books, music, or software. Laws can protect different forms of intangible property, such as through patents and trademarks. A patent, which is issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, gives the holder exclusive right to exploit an invention commercially for a specific period of time. A trademark is a distinctive sign used to distinguish the products and services of one business from those of other businesses.
Our craft is taking technology and putting it in the legal text of a document to secure property rights, Lee says.
IP law occupied a fairly small niche in the legal profession until the dot-com boom in the 1990s signaled an increasingly innovation-driven economy, and demand for IP-related services exploded, Lee says. Since IP rights give their holder exclusive privileges to sell or license a particular property in the market, the economic impact of IP rights can be enormous for Lee & Hayes clients, he says.
Lee & Hayes primarily works on patents, but recently added services for trademarks and licensing, Lee says. A licensing agreement, in this context, is a contract between an IP rights owner and another entity that is authorized to use those rights in exchange for a fee or royalty. The firms Seattle office has a team of attorneys who specialize in trademarks and licensing, he says.
When we started, we were a select group of people practicing a black art, says Dan Hayes, who co-founded the firm with Lee in 1994. Now, IP has gotten a lot more visibility, and the field has become more competitive.
Despite that increasing competition, Lee & Hayes has earned national recognition for its work, Lee says. Last year, IP Law & Business magazine ranked the firm first in the computer/software category in its annual patent-firm ranking list. Also in 2005, Microsoft named Lee & Hayes a go-to IP firm in a list compiled by Corporate Counsel magazine that surveys the nations 250 largest companies.
In addition to Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, the firms high-profile clients include GE Healthcare, Honeywell International Inc., Intel Corp., BellSouth Corp., The Goldman Sachs Group Inc., St. Jude Medical Inc., and Boeing Co., Lee says. Locally, the firm represents clients such as Inland Northwest Health Services, Telect Inc., and Pearson Packaging Systems.
Lee & Hayes has represented Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard since its inception, Lee says. It has helped Microsoft build an IP portfolio for software-related technologies used in its Xbox video-game system and Windows operating system, among others, he says. Its work for Hewlett-Packard mostly has involved preparing patents for the companys line of printers, he says as he flips through a hefty legal document filled with technical language for a particular printers patent.
Its tough reading, Hayes says. Its definitely not written to be entertaining.
While the legal documents might be a bit monotonous, the products represented in those documents are anything but dull. Lee & Hayes works on patents for wireless devices, semiconductors, Internet-related methods of commerce, video games, manufacturing techniques, and medical devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators, plus medical imaging equipment, Lee says.
As the firms clients grow and market their products increasingly in foreign countries, theyre filing for more patents in those countries, Hayes says. Some of Lee & Hayes clients also have research facilities in countries such as India, China, and Great Britain, so inventors typically file applications for patents there before they file for them in the U.S. Consequently, the firms attorneys have been conducting more video conferences with customers in Beijing; Cambridge, England; and Bangalore, India, he says.
Our clients are international clients, Lee says. Were looking at ways to serve them better.
Hayes says the firm is considering opening offices in China and India, or becoming affiliated with firms there, sometime in the next year. Hayes and Lee traveled to Beijing a few years ago, and visited India last month for an IP conference. That country has become known for its software-producing capabilities, and its government currently is working to update its IP laws so theyre comparable with those of other countries, he says.
Hayes says that when he and Lee started the firm, they didnt know it would take them all the way to the Taj Mahal. The two met in Spokane when they worked as attorneys at Wells St. John PS, another intellectual-property firm here.
Lee grew up in Soap Lake, Wash., and earned undergraduate degrees at WSU, and his law degree at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C. Hayes is a Spokane native who earned his undergraduate degree at Washington State University and his law degree at Gonzaga University.
I expected Id be working from my home, Hayes says. I had no idea wed be where we are today.
Contact Emily Brandler at (509) 344-1265 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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