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Atlanta firm targets West Coast IP law, sets up office in San Diego

An Atlanta-based intellectual property law firm has opened an office in San Diego and tapped highly regarded biotech attorney Cathryn Campbell to head up its operations.

Needle & Rosenberg PC, which has a strong presence in the Southeast, picked Southern California to anchor its West Coast services. The firm's been providing intellectual property advice to California and West Coast clients for approximately two decades.

"The expansion of Needle & Rosenberg offices to San Diego tracks the firm's long-standing national client base, predicts our further growth in the California market and follows the opening of our Charleston, S.C., office in 2005," said firm founder Bill Needle. "Like the innovation we encourage from our clients, we believe our physical presence on both coasts will secure and strengthen the local service our clients receive."

Campbell joins Needle & Rosenberg from McDermott Will & Emery LLP, where she served as head of the Life Sciences practice and co-chair of the firm's Life Sciences & Biotechnology group.

She's the only Needle & Rosenberg attorney based in San Diego so far, although partners in Atlanta will visit frequently.

"It's very exciting because we want to grow strategically as the opportunity arises," said Campbell, who will be resident of counsel. "To be in on the ground floor and really decide the direction the firm wants to go is terribly exciting."

A founding partner of the biotech IP firm Campbell & Flores LLP, Campbell was attracted by the idea of returning to a boutique firm. She likes the high degree of technical expertise its attorneys have and the intimate forum that lets you focus on specific areas of practice.

"There are so many different kinds of companies with different issues in biotech," she said. "It's important to be involved with those clients very closely."

The expensive nature of running a patent prosecution practice, combined with a lower billing rate structure, could drive more attorneys to join specialty, boutique firms, according to San Diego's Larry Watanabe, a legal recruiter.

Needle & Rosenberg should be successful, he said, unless it tries to grow beyond 15 partners.

"It's a very competitive market," said Watanabe, a principal of the legal search firm Watanabe Nason & Seltzer. "There's an overall shortage of available talent. To try and open beyond 15 might be challenging based on the talent in the marketplace."

According to Watanabe, Campbell is a great person to start with, though.

"She has a national reputation in that (biotech) area," he said.

"Cathryn is one of the highest-caliber patent attorneys in the country and a star in biotechnology," agreed David Perryman, a leader of Needle & Rosenberg's biotechnology and IP strategy groups.

Perryman used to work alongside Campbell when the two were with the San Diego IP boutique firm of Pretty Schroeder, Bruggemann & Clark from 1989-91.

The move allows Campbell, who has spent most of the past year in Washington, D.C., to set up shop in San Diego again.

Her practice focuses on biotechnology patent law. She has extensive experience in developing patent portfolio strategies, negotiating and drafting license agreements and preparing patentability, validity, infringement and freedom to operate opinions.

Campbell drafted and prosecuted the patents at the center of the recent Supreme Court case, Integra LifeSciences v. Merck KGaA. She was part of the team that represented Integra before the high court. The case, which deals with the scope of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration exemption to infringement for basic biomedical research, was sent back to the appeals court to review.

"I'm happy to be back in a boutique that concentrates on intellectual property. It has a strong commitment to personalized client service," Campbell said.

"They have always seen San Diego, and rightly so, as one of the real centers for biotech. For a while certainly they have wanted an office to anchor them on the West Coast, and it fits so well with my plans. ... It's just one of those gifts from God."

Send your comments, thoughts or suggestions to doug.sherwin@sddt.com

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