The Top Intellectual Property Law Firms of 2011

By Gene Quinn
May 23, 2011

It seems a bit early in the year to be giving awards for 2011, but the Google Legal Department has already been named the top legal department by Corporate Counsel, so why not take a look at the top intellectual property law firms in the United States?

Earlier this year Intellectual Property Today announced its annual Top Patent Law Firms for 2011.  Just recently they also announced the Top Trademark Firms for 2011.  The Top Patent Law Firms were ranked according to the number of utility patents issued in 2010, and similarly the Top Trademark Law Firms were ranked according to the number of U.S. trademark registrations issued in 2010.  In each case the firm received credit where the firm or a firm attorney was listed as the legal representative on the issued patent or trademark.  So while the list is a 2011 list, it is probably more accurate to recognize that the IP Today rankings relate to events of 2010, but who wants to get a 2010 award this far into 2011?

Whether or not the number of patents and/or trademarks issued are indicative of a “top firm,” it is still interesting to see which firms are the top users of the Patent Office and the Trademark Office, respectively.  I thought it might also be interesting to see which firms were mentioned on both lists.  In fact, there were 11  law firms that appeared on both the Top Patent Law Firms List and on the Top Trademark Law Firms List.

To come up with this list I simply identified all 12 law firms on both lists and then added their rank from the two lists to come up with a composite score.  They appear below in order of composite score.

  1. Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton
  2. Birch, Stewart, Kolasch & Birch, LLP
  3. Sughrue Mion, PLLC
  4. Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear LLP
  5. Fish & Richardson
  6. Foley & Lardner LLP
  7. Harness, Dickey & Pierce PLC
    K&L Gates LLP
  8. Cantor Colburn LLP
  9. Blakely Sokoloff Taylor & Zafman LLP
  10. Kenyon & Kenyon LLP
  11. Finnegan, Henderson

Congratulations to all the firms listed in the IP Today rankings.

Now the next question, what criteria would you use to determine the Top Intellectual Property Law Firms?  Would you include the number of cases argued at the Federal Circuit?  How many patent litigations and/or trademark litigations a firm is involved in?  Would you consider any subjective criteria?

Let the debate begin.

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and founder of IPWatchdog.com. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and an attorney with Widerman Malek. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 10 Comments comments.

  1. Mike May 23, 2011 2:29 pm

    In answer to your question, Gene, patent prosecution and patent litigation should be ranked separately. A combined rank can also be useful, but only to the extent that it excludes firms that don’t do both prosecution and litigation. Muddling all this with trademark and copyright work has no benefit I can think of.

    As far as how to rank, I’d like to see some of the following included:
    1. Raw number of patents prosecuted by the firm that were later involved in litigation.
    2. Percentage of (1) that were found valid (and/or infringed) (as an indicator of quality).
    3. Raw number of patent litigations.
    4. Raw number of trial “wins” (not considering recovery amount) and losses (patent found invalid and/or not infringed).
    5. Percentage of wins overturned on appeal.

  2. Gene Quinn May 23, 2011 3:31 pm

    Mike-

    Thanks for taking the time to answer my inquiry in the post.

    I can’t say I disagree with your 5 suggestions. The thing that jumps to mind, however, 2, 3 and 5 strike me as subjective in ways. What is valid today under KSR isn’t what should have been valid prior to that, and I don’t know that I would say that undiscovered prior art that renders claims invalid should result in a finding of lower quality. Truthfully there is only so much a client will pay for in terms of a pre-filing search. During litigation million of dollars are spent, while pre-filing maybe hundreds or a few thousand tops.

    Perhaps the only way to really assess quality is through a subjective approach that takes all factors into consideration. I mean if a firm is dealt a bad hand but takes the case that shouldn’t count (in my opinion) against the firm.

    Thoughts?

    -Gene

  3. Mike May 23, 2011 4:48 pm

    Good points, In the end, the trade-off between a deeper understanding of what firms are actually doing is introducing a greater amount of subjectivity. There might be some misleading data, but I think more information is generally better than less. In your KSR example, for instance, there’s a built-in factor that smooths some of the bumps introduced by subjectivity: time. By charting my suggestions over time, you can see how invalidity determinations evolve, on a firm-by-firm basis. So, for instance, you can run a report for pre- and post-KSR invalidity determinations and compare results from different firms. This way, you could see if one litigation firm has “handled” KSR better than another, and if patents from one prosecution firm have held up better under the weight of KSR as compared with another (or with their own prior invalidity determinations).

    There’s enough publicly available information for some enterprising people to put together a nice central repository for analytics and such. And they could rank firms however they choose based on this information, as long as they disclose their methodology. I think the key is having the information available to play with so you can come up with your own methodology, if you choose.

  4. Gene Quinn May 23, 2011 6:04 pm

    Mike-

    I agree. The fact that any real quality assessment boils down to time investigating is probably why easy objective criteria are favored.

    Cheers.

    -Gene

  5. Judith_IP May 23, 2011 9:37 pm

    Why did you use their “total filings” ranking, rather than the “US originated filings count”? It turns out that the top 10 firms are quite different, if you take out foreign originated cases which are filed (generally with no or minimal edits) in the U.S. You can be sure that the 46 attorneys at Birch, Stewart did not actually write 3000+ cases.

    You can find the US originated patent count based rankings: http://www.iptoday.com/issues/2011/04/the-patent-scorecard-2011-law-firms.asp

    And I do agree with Mike that litigation is different. This was patent prosecution rankings only.

  6. Gene Quinn May 23, 2011 9:57 pm

    Judith-

    Why did I do that? This was done by IP Today, so you might want to ask them why they did that. I will just point out that regardless how the patent application is filed they need to be prosecuted. I also specifically said in my article: “it is still interesting to see which firms are the top users of the Patent Office and the Trademark Office, respectively.” So regardless of whether the case was a US originated filing or a foreign originated case the firm still was a user of the Patent and Trademark Office.

    So while you might not like the fact that Birch, Stewart gets a lot of foreign origin work, there is absolutely no doubt that they have tremendous experience prosecuting patent applications, likely accounting at least in part for why they receive so much foreign origin work.

    I’ll just wrap up by saying that in my opinion not counting foreign origin work would create a wholly misleading ranking. As you point out these rankings were for patent prosecution. So weeding out those doing the most patent prosecution and pretending it is a more accurate list seems inaccurate at best.

    -Gene

  7. Lawrence S. Cohen May 24, 2011 4:46 pm

    I know there are plenty of arguments against any proposed measure being useful, so don’t bother to tell me, the question is, is there any way to make a measure about patent application drafting/prosecution effectiveness.
    I cant come up with an absolute way of assessing the effectiveness of a firm in patent work, but I do think that the drafting process is part of it, so I would start with a measurement that only looks at their own application product. The next step I might suggest is to count how many (that is the percentage) that had claims allowed and patent issued at the end of the initial prosecution-I mean up to final before filing an appeal or an RCE.
    In my practice I get an allowance in every case (please hold your applause), but I have to go to RCE in almost every case; although recently I have been interviewing after the first office action, and that has cut down on the necessity for an RCE in some cases. In some cases where we get claims allowed, we will take the allowed claims and file a continuation to prosecute to broader claims-what that means is that allowed claims in a parent aren’t always fully satisfactory.
    The more I think about this, the more I conclude that the quest is hopeless, (or maybe just a false premise that a law firm can be evaluated in gross) using quantity data since patent value is the real issue and that of course brings in the quality of the invention, both from an inventive and a commercial value standpoint, something over which we have no control.

  8. Judith_IP May 24, 2011 7:43 pm

    Gene — My question wasn’t intended as an accusation, it was a point of curiosity. Having worked as foreign counsel on occasion, I find that foreign filing counsel generally do not contribute much to the patent drafting or the patent prosecution. Same when I work with foreign counsel, they provide me copies of office actions and relevant documents and I send them specific instructions on how to respond. I would not consider this true prosecution. Of course, it is still utilization of the Patent Office. As to why IP Today did it that way, they actually did it both ways this year (a first). Both sets of data are interesting.

    Lawrence — The link I posted above attempts to do the type of evaluation you suggest.

  9. Karl Selander September 2, 2013 6:18 pm

    After being sued over the use of a tool name we created in 1963 and named the same year we registered our design and were able to get copied items from a blueprint, as the publisher did not have our written permission. It is a long story but as a former Ins.adjuster we have had some pre-trial experience. Now with 3 years of preparation and obtaining three registered Copyrights we are looking for help going after a host of deep pocket infringers. At 83 and on SS, we do not have the time or resources to collect our rightful royalties. This is global as our tool became a world STANDARD with marine, auto body and more industries. I do believe we have more than sufficient documents, correspondences, photos, ads, physical objects and witnesses that clearly support our claims. With our collecting and sorting all of the above, it should be an easier job to get all of the offenders to line up. I have been told that the copyrights are “Bullet Proof”. Could you refer us to an attorney specializing in IP that would take this on a 50/50 shared basis? Karl Selander

  10. Karari February 23, 2014 12:06 pm

    I would say the most important criteria is the total market value of the intellectual property the firm has handled. I would really want to know that.