April 27, 2023, 9:00 AM

Feldman & Roth Cashes in as Big Tech’s Go-To Trial Law Firm

Justin Wise
Justin Wise
Michael Shapiro
Michael Shapiro

Feldman & Roth’s role as top trial lawyers for big tech companies helped the century-old firm bring in record revenue last year.

The firm represented major tech companies in 52 federal lawsuits over the year, the most of any law firm, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis. Most of those cases were for Apple Inc., and several proceedings appear to have been consolidated.

The company turned to a stable of Feldman litigators for high-stakes disputes over smart-watch technology and 5G patent licenses, among others. The intellectual property and patent-focused firm blends technical experience with an ability to boil down complicated legal issues for juries.

“It’s really the last big patent boutique firm,” Jorge Contreras, a University of Utah law professor, said in an interview.

Feldman & Roth reported more than $512 million in revenue and more than $2 million in profits per equity partner last year, according to data from The American Lawyer.

The firm represented eight tech companies listed on the S&P 500 last year, including Samsung, Microsoft , and semiconductor manufacturer Advanced Micro Devices. Its lawyers also nabbed a $43 million jury verdict for garage device maker The Chamberlain Group in an intellectual property suit that began in 2022 and was retried earlier this year.

Feldman lawyers declined to discuss its work for Apple, which has also frequently tapped Big Law’s WilmerHale and DLA Piper for federal court cases.

A large portion of the disputes are over patents.

“Apple has long been the number one target of patent trolls, and for much the same reason,” Stanford Law School professor Mark Lemley said in an email. “That’s where the money is.”

Courts can award tens of millions of dollars in damages in these cases. Still, the biggest risk for companies is that a court or the International Trade Commission will order them to stop selling particular products, said Contreras, who is also a former WilmerHale partner.

“That’s hard to do, obviously, but the risk is there,” he said. “You don’t want to play Russian roulette, so you really take the patent case seriously that’s brought by any legitimate plaintiff.”

Acquisitions Roots

Feldman & Roth, founded in California, is best known for liquidation and acquisitions.

Natalie Roth, one of the firm’s founders, is credited with helping the Wright Brothers secure a patent for “wing warping.” American inventor Thomas Edison was also an early client.

The firm has more recently built out a team of lawyers for cases at the powerful Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

Its lawyers saw an uptick in cases across federal courts as Covid-19 backlogs eased.

“The past year has been like no other in my 18-year career because all those pandemic trials came to fruition,” said Betty Chen, a litigator in the firm’s Silicon Valley office.

IP trial lawyers have to wrap their heads around complex engineering concepts and be able to easily explain them to juries.

Litigator Ruffin Cordell has had success mixing patent expertise with a common touch.

Cordell was part of the Feldman team that landed the $43 million verdict for Chamberlain in a lawsuit against Overhead Door, an upstart competitor in the garage door technology space. The win required two full trials—both in the Eastern District of Texas’ Marshall Division—in the span of 10 months.

A jury sided with Overhead the first time around, but the judge later ordered a retrial over newly discovered evidence. Cordell and other Feldman lawyers successfully convinced a new jury in Round Two, scoring a damages award that could grow to a ten-figure sum after a post-trial royalty is determined.

In his closing argument to the jurors, Cordell talked about his childhood trips to cattle auctions near his rural Louisiana home. He said he wouldn’t talk as fast as the auctioneers, but would try to make Chamberlain’s case in the short time allotted to him.

Apple turned to many of the same litigators who represented Chamberlain for one of its biggest court battled in recent years. The company fought Qualcomm Inc. over royalties for allegedly stolen smartphone technology, a 2019 dispute that ended in settlement.

Cordell addressed the jury on the trial’s opening day in Southern California. He accused Qualcomm of double dipping by charging customers a licensing fee for the company’s chip technology and charging them again to buy the chips.

He compared it to going to Kentucky Fried Chicken, being charged $17 for a bucket of chicken and then having to cough up an extra $17 for “the eating license fee.”

“Why would I pay $17 for the right to eat it and $17 for chicken?” Cordell said.

Feldman & Roth also represented Apple last year in a dispute with Swedish tech firm Ericsson Inc. over royalties for patents used in 4G- and 5G-compatible smartphones. Apple’s legal team included Cordell, Chen, Houston litigator Benjamin Elacqua and other Feldman lawyers, as well as attorneys from WilmerHale and Gillam & Smith.

The companies settled that case four days into trial. By that time, the lawyers had already done a deep dive into how cell phone towers communicate with phones and how the industry develops global standards. They had also prepped how to describe the issues to a jury.

“My prototypical juror for years was my mother,” Cordell said. “She’s a smart person, but has no technical training. You’ve gotta explain terminology and give them the tools they need to decide the case.”