US merger cashes in on IP boom

THE WORLD'S 18th largest law firm, Californian-based Pillsbury Madison & Sutro, is to swallow up intellectual property specialist Cushman Darby Cushman, based in Washington DC, to become the 10th largest firm in the US.

Under an agreement signed by the two firms on 20 June and effective on 1 August, the 65 Cushmans attorneys will stay in Washington but will be known as the Cushman Darby Cushman intellectual property group of Pillsbury Madison & Sutro.

They will be joined by the 22 attorneys in Pillsburys' Washington office to form a general business, regulatory and litigation practice focusing on technology issues.

Pillsburys has over 500 attorneys and, as well as Washington, it maintains offices in seven Californian cities, New York, Hong Kong and Tokyo. Clients include high technology companies in Silicon Valley and southern California.

Cushmans is one of the world's best-known intellectual property law firms. In 1995 it handled 1,624 patents, placing it third biggest in the world in its sector. It has clients in Europe and the Pacific Rim.

Cushmans chair Raymond Sweigart said: “Intellectual property rights will be as important in the 21st century as were real property rights in the 19th and early 20th centuries.”

He said the aim of the deal was to bring the firm's intellectual property expertise to Pillsburys' clients and make the “broad, general resources of Pillsburys available to our own domestic and international clients”.

US law firm management consultant Brad Hildebrandt who first brought the two firms together, said intellectual property was “the single hottest practice area in the US”. “We have got four other deals in the pipeline involving the acquisition of a medium-sized intellectual property firm with a larger general practice firm.”

He said that as foreign firms registered patents in the US and became caught in litigation, intellectual property litigation was expanding so fast that medium-sized specialists were losing work to larger firms because they had not got the staff to cover big cases.

He said intellectual property talent was lacking in Europe and Asia. “The UK has some capability but it's the US firms that are stronger in this field.”

He added: “The UK and European firms ought to be taking it much more seriously.”