Be creative at telling your story. Technology and the law are complicated enough. Find creative ways with visualizations, videos, movies, animations, etc. to explain what the patent and underlying technology are about. The more you sound like a conventional patent lawyer, the more likely you are to lose the audience. The more you can be like Steven Spielberg in your presentation, the more likely you are to capture and keep their attention.
The legal field is known to be extremely competitive. Lawyers are often smart, ambitious, and highly educated. That being said, what does it take to stand out and become a “Top Lawyer” in your specific field of law? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law”, we are talking to top lawyers who share what it takes to excel and stand out in your industry.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ken Seddon.
Ken Seddon is CEO of LOT Network, Inc. the largest community of high-tech companies committed to protecting its members from costly patent troll litigation. Ken has been an intellectual property executive at some of the largest patent holders in the world including Apple, Micron, Motorola, Intel and ARM. LOT Network currently protects its members from litigation involving over 3 million worldwide patent assets. Network members include market leaders such as Slack, Facebook, Amazon and Dropbox, as well as startups across industries.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?
Growing up as a kid I always wanted to be an engineer. I enjoyed taking things apart just to figure out how they worked and often struggled to put them back together. So, I got an electrical engineering degree from Georgia Tech and started as an engineer at Motorola working in their research group. I then continued my education and earned a Master’s in Solid State Device Physics at Arizona State University (ASU).
I was fortunate to be invited to join a program at Motorola where the company took their engineers and trained them to write patents while at the same time sending them to law school. They figured it was easier to teach an engineer how to be a lawyer rather than to teach a lawyer how to be an engineer, so they home-grew their own patent attorneys. Having been both the inventor and the patent writer on several patents, I enjoyed the blend of technology and law that comes with intellectual property (IP) and ultimately got my law degree from ASU.
I worked in-house at Motorola, Intel, Numonyx, Apple and ARM on everything from filing patents to developing IP strategies. During that time I did my fair share of defending against patent assertion entity (PAE, or “patent troll”) litigation.
If you’re not familiar with them, PAEs are entities that exist for the sole purpose of acquiring patents and suing other companies with them to make money. It costs US companies billions a year to defend against PAE lawsuits,, and they’re a suck on innovation, funneling away money, talent and resources from R&D and other efforts to create better products. Being a cancer survivor, I felt strongly that companies should spend their money developing new products that improve the human condition, and reward their shareholders instead of making patent trolls rich.
Today, I’m CEO of LOT Network, a non-profit community of companies that protects its members from PAE litigation. Our members range from the largest patent holders in the world like IBM, Canon, and Microsoft, to high-growth companies like Slack, Tesla, Coinbase and innovative startups, and everything in between. Simply put, our 1,700+ members agree that if, and only if, their patent assets fall into the hands of a PAE, they will grant a license to all the other members in the network — which means that community members can’t be sued by a PAE using those assets. Meanwhile, all the traditional uses of patents are retained: (e.g. companies can still sell them, or even use them to sue other member companies.)
We really believe in protecting innovation — and a few years ago, our board voted to make membership free for tech startups with less than 25 million dollars in revenue. It’s a great way for high growth startups to take one less worry off their plate as they are on the journey to IPO.
You are a successful attorney. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
- Never-ending quest for learning: Intellectual Property lies at the intersection of technology and the law. So naturally, this is rapidly changing and evolving globally. You must be constantly working to understand how technology is evolving, how economic factors impact various industries, be sensitive to the undertow created by geopolitical forces, and as the pandemic has shown us, be ready to pivot if something like health factors are capable of changing the law or technology on a global scale. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of having a myopic view and focusing on the case law happening in your jurisdiction, state, court, etc. To be an effective advisor and business partner, you have to become a trusted and valuable resource for your client who is up-to-date on all facets of technology and the law.
- Common sense: Unfortunately, It seems that common sense is not common enough in our world — particularly in the legal profession. The socratic method used by law schools trains young lawyers to be hypersensitive to the risks that might be triggered by each and every fact in any scenario. At the same time, the world is becoming more and more competitive on a global scale. If a lawyer’s only response to a client’s question is “Oh, that might cause a problem,” well then honestly either that business will fail or that client will hire a new lawyer. Lawyers have to have a practical understanding of what risks are real, and which are likely academic. Too many lawyers get stuck in “analysis paralysis” and never accomplish anything. You must be able to triage situations properly, and provide constructive solutions that enable a business to be successful in the marketplace AND properly manage risk. Lawyers can’t wash their hands of the risk. They must partner with the business — and tie their future to that business — while accepting the appropriate level of risk.
- Creativity: They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. As a corollary, I take that to mean if you do the same thing that everyone has already done yet expect a different outcome, then you are insane. You must always be willing to experiment, be open to new ideas, and be open to some of those ideas failing or only working for a short period of time. This means you need a diverse team that can bring you a wide-range of ideas from different vantage points and perspectives. A good leader should empower the most junior on the team to come up with the one idea that can win the game.
What unique qualities do you have that others may not?
Humility. Lawyers often come with strong egos because of their upbringing or educational background. Lawyers can be very insecure, and thus, are in a competition to prove to everyone else in the room that they are the smartest one in the room, like a parade of peacocks showing off their feathers. I prefer to just walk into the room assuming I am not the smartest person there, and begin looking for those that are smarter than me who might have ideas or wisdom that I can glean.
This can be a great information gathering tactic. In other words, ask your adversary for advice. Just tell them you are new at this and ask them “how would you handle this”. You have completely disarmed them because they will naturally assume they are the smarter one and feel superior and completely underestimate your intelligence. Once in this position, their ego typically can’t help but allow them to show off how smart they are and share their tactics and strategies. Even if it doesn’t help you in the present case, you’ve learned something about your opponent for the next round.
Be creative, be different. Patents and technology can be overwhelming when presented to juries and business people. You have to find creative ways to present your “IP story” to your audience. Too often I see lawyers reciting statues, codes, case law, etc. There is certainly a time and place for that, but it’s rare and usually limited to appellate court rooms. The really good IP attorneys are the ones who can take complex technology that is wrapped up in this “black magic” IP law and be able to explain it in such a way that anyone can not only understand it, but get excited about it.
Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?
I wouldn’t say I have had luck in the direct sense — like winning the lottery. I’ve been lucky to have mentors in my career who trusted me to give me opportunities to grow and learn before I may have been ready for them. I am very grateful for my managers at Intel and Apple who involved me in patent license negotiation projects where I was able to see how the brightest minds in the industry worked on the biggest stages. In that same way, I’ve also been lucky to work with some of the smartest in-house and outside counsel.
Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?
In the area of IP, I believe your ability to understand technology is far more important than the ranking of the law school you went to. Traditional law schools might have one class on IP in their entire three year program. What is more important for IP lawyers is technical background, which includes what engineering school you went to, what degree you received, and the amount of experience you have as an engineer. Far too often I see engineering graduates going straight to law school with no practical engineering experience. I think it is important for an IP lawyer to have a couple of years of experience as a working engineer to truly understand what engineers are doing on a day-to-day basis.
Based on the lessons you have learned from your experience, if you could go back in time and speak to your twenty-year-old self, what would you say? Would you do anything differently?
Given the truly “Forrest Gump” type of life that I have had, there is not much that I would change. I would tell my younger self to relax and be patient — “It all works out in the end,” and to have faith that each little task I am given, especially early on, is nothing but a test or building block that leads to a greater responsibility to come. But of course you only see that in hindsight.
Looking back, I have a greater appreciation for how important it is to make the most of every opportunity you are given as a junior attorney. For example, take a common, mundane task and be uncommonly good at it. Look for ways to inject your creativity and personal touches into it. For example, at Intel, each attorney is tasked with managing a portion of the portfolio and at the end of the year has to show the value of how they are managing their part. Each year my team took this as an opportunity to showcase how we were constantly improving with our proactive approach to managing the patents. We would prepare claim charts on competitors’ products, do mock patent pageants, reward inventors who could find proof that their patents were being infringed by other companies, and more. This naturally put our team in a position to become involved with various licensing and litigation matters — whenever the need arose. But at a minimum, it gave everyone a sense of pride in the work they were doing by giving them an opportunity to showcase their work to their peers in the legal department. I believe this motivated everyone on the team to put in their best effort, and to make the most of every opportunity.
This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?
Today, LOT Network is all about leaving the IP community in a better place than when it was founded. Growing up I was an Eagle Scout and we were taught that whenever you went camping you were to always leave the campgrounds cleaner than the way you found it — picking up trash, or by leaving firewood for the next person. It is my hope that LOT Network can do the same for the IP community.
As a cancer survivor, I know first-hand that patents can have a strong influence on protecting innovation — which in turn saves lives. I’ve also seen the money that companies spend dealing with PAES (or “patent trolls”). This is money not being spent on new product development, human resources, R+D, etc.). It is my hope that through LOT Network, we are able to get back to a stronger patent system that does what it was meant to do — motivate and protect innovation. At the end of the day, if we help a company survive, save an employee their job, or help a new product get to market, then I feel I’ve been a good steward in the IP world and have made it a better place.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
With 1,700+ members, LOT Network has clearly gone from a new idea to one that is nearly a foregone conclusion. We are fortunate to have the brightest minds in IP as part of the community. Since these companies have already made an important agreement among themselves, they have the freedom to brainstorm and work together to solve other problems facing the high-tech industry. For example, many of our members are collaborating to help provide transparency around the licensing of the standard essential patents for 5G. We also developed a platform where our members can now buy and sell patents between themselves, making it more accessible for unicorns or those just beginning to grow their patent portfolios to buy quality assets from the patent leaders within the community.
Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?
I believe we are just scratching the surface. We at least another 10,000 companies to encourage joining the community — encouraging them to immunize themselves from the threat of a costly patent lawsuit.. We are also just starting to build bridges with universities to better understand their needs and how LOT can partner on their endeavors. Ultimately we want to get every holder of a patent into our community.
Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?
I’m not sure they are war stories, or even funny for that matter, but what amazes me is the array of reasons that companies join our community. Sure, most join because they simply want to get immunized to the 3.1+ million patent assets we have in our community. But now we are seeing pharmaceutical companies, which historically didn’t have issues with PAEs, join, because they want to curtail the PAE problem so that the high-tech industry doesn’t continue to try to weaken the patent system. Others join because they want to sell their patents to PAEs in a guilt-free way. Still others join because they are suppliers to some of our members, and they want to distinguish themselves from their competitors — offering downstream protection within their ecosystem. Truly completely different reasons, yet they all seem to have one thing in common — they all want a world with a strong patent system that protects innovation and that is free of PAEs. Hopefully LOT can deliver on that mission.
Ok, fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing some advice for aspiring lawyers. Do you work remotely? Onsite? Or Hybrid? What do you think will be the future of how law offices operate? What do you prefer? Can you please explain what you mean?
Yes, the global team at LOT Network is completely remote. We have to go where the companies are, which means we have representatives in the US, China, and Japan. We would typically meet most of our new members at conferences, but obviously that has changed due to COVID.
How has the legal world changed since COVID? How do you think it might change in the near future? Can you explain what you mean?
COVID has taught us that we can get our work done remotely. In fact, LOT Network has added more than 500 companies in 2021 alone. Clearly companies are able to learn about LOT and make the decision to join through virtual meetings. Now, granted, I am typically dealing directly with the most senior decision makers in legal departments (i.e. the Chief IP counsel or sometimes the General Counsel). These folks have been around the industry long enough to be able to make an informed decision about LOT relatively quickly. One downside of the pandemic that I worry about is how junior people are going to get the training and mentoring that they need. So much of the legal profession is built on apprenticeship. I really feel for the law school graduate who now has to come up the learning curve I’ve come up with without the benefit of sitting in a conference room or having a lunch time conversation asking the important “what ifs.”
We often hear about the importance of networking and getting referrals. Is this still true today? Has the nature of networking changed or has its importance changed? Can you explain what you mean?
The importance of networking has not changed. What has changed, I think, is the reliance on referrals. Instead of randomly meeting people at industry events or conferences, we now have to ask a trusted friend to make an introduction and then follow-up with that person via email and video conferencing. It can be done, and the result will be the same — it just requires more effort.
Excellent. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law?” Please share a story or an example for each.
- Strong Technical Background: IP attorneys are effectively technical translators. They have to describe a new technology, in a way that jurors and judges across the nation can understand, that’s never been introduced before, and translate that idea into a legal system that was originally created by framers of the US Constitution. This first step requires the IP attorney to be able to meet with the inventors who created the idea and be able to effectively mine the idea from their notes and conversations — while consuming as little time as possible — so the inventors can go back to doing what they do best: inventing. So, one day you have to become an expert who understands how dopant diffuses under the gate of a semiconductor device with one team of inventors, and the following week you might have to understand how modeling data is used to educate the AI core of an autonomous vehicle with a second team of inventors.
- Stay on top of the law: If your job is drafting patent applications, then you must stay on top of how patents are interpreted in litigation. You must stay abreast of how the patents you are producing may be interpreted by a court, should your client need to use them. Make time to read the opinions from the US Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit to see how other patents are being interpreted. Draft short summaries and share them with your colleagues and clients. Learn from the mistakes of others — this is how template license agreements get put together. Odds are, every clause that you see in a template contract or license agreement or template patent application is in there because there was a recent case where the court ruled against someone because that language was NOT in there. The only thing better than learning from your own mistakes is to never make the mistake, and learn from the mistakes of others.
- Be creative at telling your story. Technology and the law are complicated enough. Find creative ways with visualizations, videos, movies, animations, etc. to explain what the patent and underlying technology are about. The more you sound like a conventional patent lawyer, the more likely you are to lose the audience. The more you can be like Steven Spielberg in your presentation, the more likely you are to capture and keep their attention
- Ask to be mentored. Just like the other areas of the law, IP law is an apprenticeship. There are some great mentors in our industry who would be flattered and appreciate the opportunity to pass on the knowledge and experience they have learned over the years. I am sure all the VP’s of IP out there would admit that they had one or two good mentors in their life who helped them become the leaders they are today. There are many quality people in our industry who feel an obligation to “pay if forward” and return the favor to the next generation of IP attorneys.
- Don’t burn bridges and remember lawyering is a team sport. The IP community is a very small community. It is fair to fight hard for your client, and to do your best zealously representing them — but don’t take it personally and don’t make the fight personal. Remember, the person you are dealing with now could easily become the next US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit judge, or with the next corporate merger, your boss. It seems the ones who burn bridges are those that let work define who they are, and when things don’t go their way, get frustrated. So my advice would be to maintain a healthy work-life balance, keep perspective, and never lose sight of the fact that being a lawyer in the industry is really a team sport. The success of any one lawyer always comes down to the team of associates, paralegals, staff, and all colleagues that they work with. Make sure you share your successes with your team and they will be there to support you during the losses.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Former NFL quarterback, Steve Young. I’ve always admired the level of intellect he brought to the game of football as a player and that he now brings as a commentator. He clearly tried to out-think everyone in the film room as well as on the field. Now, I’m just so impressed with how articulate he is, analyzing the mental game within the sport. He can turn a “pig skin” into a “waltz” and it seems in every segment he does on TV, he manages to throw in a 5 syllable word that I have to look up during the commercial break. But after looking it up, I feel a little smarter and grateful for it. I would have loved being a teammate of his.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!