Oppenhoff reels from IP partner exodus

Oppenhoff & Rädler's Cologne office is losing four of its intellectual property (IP) partners, leading to speculation that the firm is winding down its IP practice.

Rainer Jacobs is setting up his own practice in Cologne and Joachim Wessel is joining BBLP Beiten Burkhardt Mittl & Wegener in Düsseldorf where he will establish an IP department.

Peter Sambuc and Gerhild Buchholz-Szilagyi are both retiring from the firm which is merging with Linklaters & Alliance today (15 January).

The move follows the departure of a team of media and telecoms lawyers, led by Christoph Wagner, who left the Berlin office last August to join Hogan & Hartson following the firm's decision to merge with Linklaters (The Lawyer, 14 August 2000).

Since then IP and competition partner Andreas Lubberger has moved from the Frankfurt office to join Stefan Lütje, the only remaining IP partner in the Berlin office.

Sources claim that the partners are leaving because of the low standing they will receive following the merger. One partner says: “Profit distribution is definitely a problem.”

But IP's low categorisation comes as a surprise because Linklaters is relatively strong in IP work.

One lawyer says: “Linklaters in only interested in patent litigation which is very profitable. Oppenhoff has no patent work because in Germany large law firms don't do this type of work.”

The senior partner of Oppenhoff's Cologne office Michael Oppenhoff denies that the IP practice is winding down. He says that it is a coincidence that so many IP partners have left in such a short space of time and that they left for different reasons. “We are recruiting more people and one IP lawyer has already started,” he says.

“Jacobs does Court of Appeal work and we decided that the area was not as appealing as we thought. Wagner left because of a conflict and Gerhild Buchholz-Szilagyi and Sambuc are leaving because they have reached retirement age.”

But a number of partners feel that Oppenhoff's IP practice will no longer exist in the traditional sense.

One former Oppenhoff partner says: “Oppenhoff has been strong in IP since the Second World War, but now IP will only exist as an auxiliary service for M&A and this will not be enough to keep the public convinced that it is still an IP practice.”