Legal market overview in United States
Copyright law in music has seen a ripple effect emanating from the success of Marvin Gaye’s Estate’s lawsuit against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, where mimicking ‘the feel’ of a song was deemed grounds for infringement. Another key development in the music industry has been The Music Modernization Act being passed in the Senate in September, which aims to ensure that musicians and artists receive better payment through digital music services. The phenomenon of ‘copyright trolls’ has been another trend within this sphere; the term loosely refers to parties that aggressively litigate against the use of unlicensed images or content online, primarily with the intention of making money rather than protecting intellectual property.
Trade secrets, although a slightly more niche area of law, recently made headlines when the Department of Justice made a criminal inquiry against the Chinese tech company Huawei for allegedly stealing trade secrets from American business partners. The widely publicized tariffs levied by theTrump administration on Chinese products have ostensibly been motivated by trade secret misappropriation from Chinese companies. In terms of regulations, the most recent development was the Defend Trade Secrets Act in 2016, which allows an owner of a trade secret to sue in federal court when its trade secrets have been misappropriated.
Finally, after the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of inter partes reviews (‘IPR’) in spring 2018, IPR is as valuable a tool for patent litigators as ever, as most firms hadn’t seen a dip in the number of IPR cases before the widely expected decision of the Supreme Court in Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene's Energy Group, LLC. As a side effect of the creation of IPR in 2012, the International Trade Commission has become a more important venue, with many practitioners reporting an increasingly broad sector spread visible in the Commission’s caseload. On the prosecution side, lawyers benefit from their clients’ sustained willingness to invest in the development and implementation of patent portfolios, despite being under stronger cost pressure. A look back at last year’s lateral hires reveals a slight uptick in significant team changes, with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP’s continued growth through the hire of several established litigation and prosecution partners from McDermott Will & Emery LLP as the most prominent example. In addition, Andrews Kurth Kenyon LLP merged with Hunton & Williams in spring 2018, and former East Coast boutique Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto joined Venable LLP in November 2018, broadening the service platform for its clients while decreasing the number of IP boutiques in a market that is already comparatively dominated by large law firms.