American consumers love their smartphones: These days more than 80 million people in the United States own one.
Lawyers also find the smartphones easy to love - especially skilled patent attorneys, who have become nearly as hot a commodity as the latest iPhone thanks to a surge of patent litigation involving major smartphone makers such as Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and HTC. Although patent lawyers comprise just 3 percent of all U.S. attorneys, they are sought for an estimated 15 percent of current law firm job openings.
"Attorneys who understand the patent area are crucially important to companies in the way that tradesmen who knew how to rivet were important when cities were being built," says T. J. Duane, a principal at legal recruitment firm Lateral Link Group.
Lateral Link recently listed about 280 job openings for patent lawyers among the roughly 1,450 open positions for all attorneys nationwide. Some of the increased demand can be attributed to the recent Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (Pub. L. No. 112-29), the biggest overhaul to the U.S. patent system since the 1950s. But the smartphone wars are certainly helping to drive demand for patent lawyers, particularly any with advanced engineering degrees. As Duane puts it, "Since a lot of the value of Silicon Valley companies is tied up in their patents, it's a real boom for patent attorneys with strong technical backgrounds."
More than 20 percent of Lateral Link's patent openings are located in the Bay Area, where many companies involved in smartphone litigation make their home. Google, of Mountain View, is currently fending off lawsuits from half a dozen major companies, including Apple (Cupertino), Oracle (Redwood Shores), and eBay (San Jose), that target its Android smartphone operating system. Apple is waging a scorched-earth legal battle against South Korea's Samsung, with more than 30 legal cases in ten countries.
Unlike previous booms for the practice area, which often have quickly fizzled, the smartphone wars are likely to keep patent and IP attorneys busy for years. Apple's founder, the late Steve Jobs, was quoted as saying he would "spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank" to sue Google over Android, which he felt had blatantly ripped off Apple's operating system. And already it looks like the explosion of smartphone litigation will soon be matched by similar suits involving tablet computers such as the iPad.
All of which means that when the smoke clears, the real winners of the smartphone wars are likely to be the lawyers.
|Bay Area firms representing companies in the Smartphone Wars
Alston & Bird
Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Tensegrity Law Group
Morrison & Foerster; Boies, Schiller &
King & Spalding
Weil, Gotshal &
Covington & Burling
|PayPal and eBay
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
|Mobile payment technology
Goodrich & Rosati