Erick S Robinson
What advice do you have for anyone considering a career in patent law?
A technical background is a real advantage, even in litigation where USPTO registration is not required. New law graduates with a degree in electrical engineering are in incredible demand, and computer science and software engineering are also hot. However, some of the top patent litigators do not have technical degrees, as the arbiter of a patent case in the United States is typically a jury of non-technical individuals. Also, a technical lawyer can lose the forest for the trees. Nonetheless, a technical degree makes it easier for a new lawyer to get hired.
How do you build trust and understanding with clients in both the United States and China?
No matter the location, trust begins with honesty. My clients know that I am completely honest with them. Litigation is about winning, and patent cases involve very high stakes. Even when the truth hurts, attorneys must be sincere with clients. That does not mean that one should be uncaring, as kindness and reasonableness matter. I have been lucky to have excellent experience at top law firms and in-house at Qualcomm and Red Hat, allowing me to develop and convey winning strategies that my clients understand and respect.
What are some of the most common mistakes that foreign rights holders make when trying to enforce their patents in China and how can they avoid them?
Foreign patentees must stay up to date with the litigation environment. Chinese patent law has evolved in amazing ways over the past few years, but over the last two years, I have noticed many negative changes in its actual enforcement. The speed to trial for foreign patentees has become sluggish to standstill. This may be due to the pandemic, but at least for now, one of the major advantages of Chinese patent litigation has disappeared. Also, although I remain a big advocate of the Chinese patent system, there have been no major injunctions enforced based on foreign patents. Another issue is the lack of transparency. There is no nationwide case publishing system in China, which means that it is very difficult to track how patent cases are trending. My solution for now is to file in the United States and Germany.
Also, too much trust in Chinese counsel is risky. There are great lawyers and firms in China, but unless the foreign entity has experience in China, it can be taken advantage of. Finally, the choice of counsel in China is important even more so than in the United States or Europe. To win in China, one must have good patents and good counsel. But these days, even that does not ensure success.
How are client demands changing and what effect has this had on your practice?
Throughout my career, client expectations have evolved significantly, with the speed, scale and complexity of issues expanding. This requires lawyers to be more flexible. I personally have had to expand the breadth and depth of not just my legal knowledge and abilities, but also other skills such as marketing. Such steps are no longer optional because the legal market has never been more competitive. To exceed client expectations, I constantly use technology, social media and other tools that did not exist even a few years ago. The goal is to provide clients with smart and innovative solutions to the numerous and dynamic challenges they face, and to convey expertise and creativity so they know they are in good hands. Some attorneys complain about this continual change, but I like the challenge. Ultimately, the tougher the situation, the more I feel I have an advantage over other lawyers and firms.
What are the key skills required of any top-level patent litigator – and how can these be honed?
Everything a patentee’s counsel does should accomplish one of two things: move the case toward trial, or make the case more likely to be won at trial. Anything else is inefficient and should be minimised or eliminated. Ultimately, a great patent litigator must have vision, perseverance and the ability to relate to and lead others. These are the same skills required of any litigator, but litigating and trying patent cases can be very complex. This is why perhaps the most important trait of a top patent litigator is the ability to build a team and trust that team. Nothing can be accomplished alone, as success requires the ‘three Cs’ – communication, collaboration and co-operation. These skills can only be honed through practice.
Erick S Robinson
Erick Robinson is a respected US trial lawyer and patent litigator with a technical background in computer science and electronics. He focuses on patent monetisation and licensing, is an expert in Chinese and German patent law, and has managed and tried patent cases around the world, including multi-jurisdictional cases in China, Germany, France, Brazil and Vietnam. Mr Robinson also previously served as director of patents in Asia for Qualcomm.