A Conversation with the AIPLA Presidents


The American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) is run day-to-day by its Executive Director, Q. Todd Dickinson, but like virtually all state bar associations, the AIPLA also has a President.  On October 11, 2012, I had the opportunity to speak with Bill Barber (of Pirkey Barber PLLC) and Jeff Lewis (of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP), who were, at the time, the soon-to-be-outgoing and soon-to-be-incoming Presidents of the AIPLA, respectively. The interview was done in connection with my fall series profiling the AIPLA, AIPLA Executive Director Todd Dickinson and the AIPLA Annual Meeting. For all of the related articles, please see AIPLA on IPWatchdog.

The AIPLA President, as far as I can tell, works every bit as hard and long as anyone else at the AIPLA, perhaps even harder in some respects. The AIPLA President is a volunteer position, but also seems to be a full-time position. The President is also a practicing attorney who at least occasionally attempts, to the greatest extent possible, to find time to do real legal work for real clients in between rushing to this meeting, taking that call, dealing with whatever issue, or flying off to some exotic land to represent the AIPLA abroad.

What follows are some of the highlights of my interview with Barber and Lewis.

Here is a thumbnail sketch of the AIPLA and how it operates:

LEWIS: We have in our association more than 50 committees. Each of those committees has a chair and a vice-chair. Many of them have subcommittees that have chairs and vice-chairs. All of them have people who are incredibly active in whatever the mandate of that committee is. On top of that, we have some committees that are presidential appointment only. So you’re talking about such as the amicus commission, such as the professional appointments committee that comments on people who are nominated for court ascendance and executive appointments. So you’re talking about literally hundreds of people that day in and day out drop whatever they’re doing for a paying client when something comes up at the Association that needs attention. And they hop on airplanes and they fly to Geneva to monitor WIPO meetings or they go to Washington to testify in front of Congress. There is such a wonderful and amazing body of incredibly smart, incredibly talented, and incredibly dedicated people that make the association run. But that’s literally hundreds of people. And that Association can’t function without a staff who really orchestrates, makes sure everybody’s pulling oars in the same direction and do an amazing job. We have a good size staff, but when you benchmark it against other associations, we actually have a small staff on a per member basis. Our staff produces work product and effort and inspires people to do things that, really, they’re to be lauded at every turn. So I think, as Bill put it, from every level of the association, if you want to start at Todd as executive director down to our active members, or if you want to talk about our initiative and start at the active members and go in the other direction, we are truly blessed with an association of dedicated, wonderful people at every level.

On the increased scrutiny and negative media attention given to patents and intellectual property in general:

BARBER: This is something that has concerned us for quite a while. I’m at the IPC annual meeting right in Vancouver, and Judge Rader was here talking today about this very thing. And he emphasized to all of us in the audience, the IP bar, that it’s our obligation to defend our profession and the IP system against all these assaults. We’re certainly trying to do that at AIPLA. I don’t know how effective we’ve been, but we’re trying. We have a rapid response team that when an article comes out in the New York Times or the Washington Post, or whatever media that’s negative towards IP in a way that we think is unfair or based on inaccurate facts or just unfair for some reason, we have a group of writers that will prepare a response and then we’ll try to get the response published. Just yesterday, I was invited to submit a piece to the New York Times in a section that they call Room For Debate, and the question was, does intellectual property protection discourage or encourage innovation? And so I prepared a piece for that and there were like four other contributors and now there’s this whole discussion going on about that. Many of the comments that I’ve looked at today are of course negative towards intellectual property. So it’s a concern. I think it’s a result of the fact that intellectual property has become such a big deal in our society. The flip side of that is it’s coming under a lot more scrutiny now by the media and public at large. And we have to do what we can to educate the media and the public at large as to why we have an intellectual property system, what the benefit to society is. It’s grounded in our constitution.

Relating to what people can be doing and what kind of volunteer opportunities there are available at AIPLA, particularly for those who would like to help push back against the anti-patent onslaught:

BARBER: We can certainly use more help in this exact area. And that is commenting on negative articles about IP just in general. Improving the public perception of IP and there are lots of ways to do that. There’s not only responding to negative articles, but getting out there into schools, elementary schools, high schools, educating the public at large about the intellectual property system and why it’s important. We have a number of committees that are involved in that activity within AIPLA, but we can certainly use more help. So there is a lot of opportunity to join committees and get involved in that type of process.

LEWIS: If for instance we have a website called Creativity In Bloom in which we’re starting to populate information for different age groups to try to show them, teach them and get them to understand intellectual property. And that’s part of a public initiative. And I would say if somebody wanted to address the issue that you raised directly, Gene, get involved in part of the public education function.

For the full transcript of my interview with Bill Barber and Jeff Lewis, please see Part I and Part II.

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