Ira J. Levy, a partner in Goodwin Procter’s Litigation Department, has a diverse intellectual property practice, working on matters involving patents, copyrights and trademarks. He has extensive experience with disputes involving biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and chemistry; electronics, computers and telecommunications; mechanical devices; industrial and consumer products; and the Internet, new media and e-commerce. Mr. Levy has been an active member of the New York Intellectual Property Law Association, International Trademark Association, American Intellectual Property Law Association, Association of Patent Law Firms, American Bar Association, Pharmaceutical Trademarks Group and the Legal Aid Society.
Q: What got you interested in IP law?
Ira: When I was growing up, a close relative worked for a small intellectual property firm in New York. During school breaks and summers, I had an opportunity to observe the practice close-up by working in the office services department of the firm. Over the years, and through college, I worked my way up from the mailroom, where I ran photocopy machines and served lunch to the partners, to organizing the library and ultimately supporting technical research for an International Trade Commission proceeding. While in college pursuing my degree in molecular biology, the Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in Diamond v. Chakrabarty, a case that held that a genetically manufactured microorganism was patentable subject matter. While this sparked my interest in intellectual property, it wasn’t until after taking my MCATs, applying for medical school, and changing my mind about pursuing a medical degree, that I decided to revisit intellectual property. It was suggested by family and friends that I consider going to law school and pursue a career in intellectual property law. Working my way through law school at different intellectual property firms, I continued to expand my interests into trademark and copyright law, as well as patent law. By the time I graduated, it was clear that I was going to pursue a practice in intellectual property law. Interestingly, while I expected to move quickly into patent litigation, my earliest opportunities came on the trademark side, and it was not until later in my associate career that I started picking up more patent litigation.
Q: Why do you like IP law?
Ira: I enjoy the creative energy of my clients. I also appreciate the accessibility of the subject matter of the cases. For example, while some people find the science underlying patent cases to be daunting, I enjoy breaking the technology down to a point where it is accessible and understandable to judges and juries. I also enjoy the fact that while most people may find the details of a corporate transaction or a breach of contract lawsuit to be something less than exciting, people tend to have a soft spot for creation and innovation – they can side with inventors, artists, and even marketing/advertising people, and are usually absorbed by the back-story behind innovation.
I also enjoy and appreciate the fact that my kids can understand much of what I do. For example, I once worked on a case for Pepperidge Farm Goldfish brand crackers and cookies. Pepperidge Farm accused Nabisco of diluting the trademark and trade dress rights in the Goldfish brand cracker by launching a new cheese cracker that played off a Nickelodeon television show, Cat Dog. This case moved along quickly, and we were working almost every day over a two-month period. One Saturday, before leaving for the office, I was trying to explain to my daughter, then in nursery school, why Daddy was working so hard. After a couple of minutes, and a few bowls of crackers, I think she got it. In fact, on Monday, when she went back to school she told her teacher and classmates: “Daddy is making the world safe for Goldfish.”
Q: Tell us about your interesting clients and cases.
Ira: In the past, I have tended to work a lot within the food industry. Over my career, I have represented General Goods, now Kraft General Foods. I have also represented Nestle/Stouffer’s, Oscar Mayer, Miller Brewing Company, Campbell Soup, Godiva, Pepperidge Farm, PepsiCo, Tropicana and Quaker Oats. In addition, over the years I have done a fair amount of work for Teva Pharmaceuticals, Tyco, American Home Products (now Wyeth) and Johnson & Johnson. I have also represented a number of luxury goods companies such as Polo/Ralph Lauren, L’Oreal and Giorgio Beverly Hills.
One of the more interesting cases I handled was on behalf of Miller Brewing Company and Molson Breweries. John Labatt Breweries sued Miller and Molson for patent and trademark infringement in connection with their sale and marketing of a beer style known as “ice beer.” In the late 90s, Labatt received a patent for a method of creating ice in a stream of beer as it made its way through a brewery. Since brewing processes are different at each brewery, we had to work with our experts to inspect and document the process conditions and equipment at each of Molson’s Canadian and Miller’s United States breweries, spread across the various countries. As I was standing in my 12th brewery with the head brew-master for Molson, I realized what a great job I had.
Another interesting case was on behalf of Oscar Mayer, which makes Claussen brand pickles. At the time, Claussen was running an advertising campaign centered around whether or not competitor pickles were crunchy or droopy. A competitor charged that the advertisements were misleading, and challenged the advertisements with each of the major broadcast networks. We then had to go to the standards bureaus for each of the networks, white lab coats and jars of pickles in tow, to recreate the droopy versus crunchy claim shown in the challenged advertisement, and substantiate the claim.
I find that almost all of my cases, even the trademark and advertising cases, reside at the interface between law and science. I look forward to expanding the diversity of our IP practice as the Goodwin Procter grows and expands to California.