Venable will nearly double its intellectual property force 15 lawyers on way with absorption of Spencer & Frank


September 23, 1998|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

In a move aimed at landing more high-technology legal work, Venable, Baetjer and Howard LLP said yesterday that it will absorb the Washington-based intellectual property law firm of Spencer & Frank.

The addition of Spencer & Frank's 15 lawyers on Oct. 1 will almost double Venable's intellectual property contingent of 20 lawyers, pushing the firm's total roster to 301.

James L. Shea, Venable's managing partner, said information technology firms and biotechnology firms stretching from Northern Virginia to Baltimore increasingly require more protection of intellectual property.

"It's at the core of what moves the economy," Shea said.

The deal follows a recent push by Venable to add to its intellectual property -- or "IP" -- talent. In the late 1980s, Venable did not have a single lawyer dedicated to intellectual property, the branch of law that deals with rights to ideas, innovations and inventions. "We've been building, brick by brick, step by step, and this accelerates it," Shea said.

George H. Spencer, senior founding partner of Spencer & Frank, which ranks among the nation's top 35 law firms in the volume of patents and trademarks issued annually, said the combination will give his clients access to a world-class law firm.

"Somewhere along the line, the strictly IP firms are going to become dinosaurs," he said. "Clients will look to general law firms for everything. And I don't think it's good for Spencer & Frank to sit back and wait for that to happen."

Responding to the needs of technology companies makes sense for law firms, said Anirban Basu, an economist with the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University. Biotechnology revenues alone are expected to increase by about 18 percent this year, before growing by as much as 20 percent next year and 25 percent in 2000, Basu said.

"In Maryland, revenue growth is likely to be much more rapid than that," Basu said. "This is a smart move, because Venable will be better able to serve the most rapidly growing portion of the Maryland economy."

About six months after the deal becomes final, Spencer & Frank will close its office and move to Venable's Washington office on New York Avenue, which will expand from two to three stories. The deal will increase Venable's Washington area presence to about 150 lawyers -- roughly the same number as in Baltimore region offices, Shea said.

More importantly, Spencer's prolific patent and trademark practice will help Venable's litigation-oriented IP practice become a bigger player in a growing field.

Particularly helpful will be seven Spencer lawyers who have degrees in electrical engineering and others who are experts in biotechnology, Shea said. "This gives us a full service IP group with some depth," he said.

Vincent Forlenza, president of Becton Dickinson Microbiology Systems in Hunt Valley, said the combination has appeal. He said intellectual property firms generally excel in either technology or in litigation. "They're saying we can offer you both; you don't have to make a choice between one and the other," Forlenza said. "That's a strong argument."

Venable, which has business, litigation, and government divisions, will create a new technology division after the combination.

Among Spencer & Frank's industrial clients -- located in Europe and the Pacific Rim -- is Germany's Daimler-Benz AG. The firm is also one of only 12 that handles patent work for the National Institutes of Health.

Venable's current technology practice serves Lockheed Martin Corp., Raytheon Co., Honeywell Inc., Compaq Computer Corp., Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co. Inc.

"This move builds on Venable's strength in the D.C. market," said William D. Coston, partner-in-charge of Venable's Washington office. "By assembling a full-service team of professionals, we are working to make every company's short list of law firms which offer sophisticated solutions to complicated problems."

Pub Date: 9/23/98

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