Attorney of the Month, Robert Atkins

robert atkins patent law group

Nothing Routine about Patent Law

By Vicki Hogue-Davies

By its very nature, the practice of patent and intellectual property law is never routine. New leading edge discoveries and innovations in science and technology are the foundation of the work. Helping clients protect their ideas as they prepare to bring them to market keeps patent attorneys busy and intellectually stimulated.

At the Patent Law Group: Atkins and Associates, P.C., in Chandler, Arizona, the firm’s attorneys counsel clients on intellectual property (IP) matters and assist them in protecting their ideas in a wide variety of technology areas. They receive new inventions from clients and prepare the new technologies for submission as patent applications. They also handle trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights, licensing, litigation and provide other IP services.

A technical or scientific education or background is required for this specialty law area – the attorneys spend considerable time keeping up with scientific and technological developments.

“Our clients are constantly innovating and sending us new products and services to protect,” says Robert Atkins, the firm’s founder and managing partner and a former practicing electrical engineer. “Clients trust us to do what is needed to protect their ideas.”

“We have a well-rounded firm when it comes to the diversity of our technical backgrounds,” he continues. In addition to Atkins’ electrical engineering expertise, the firm’s attorneys have backgrounds in semiconductors, digital and analog electronic circuit design, computer science, business methods, mechanical devices, aerospace, biotechnology, medical devices, genetics, chemical engineering, biochemistry, alternative energy, petroleum refining, and other technical fields.

The Early Years
Atkins earned a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering and Master of Science in electrical engineering and spent his engineering career working on space and defense programs for the Department of Defense and Motorola. He designed torpedo guidance systems for the Trident submarine program and semiconductors and communications systems for military satellites and the space shuttle.

Atkins became interested in patent law after speaking with a patent attorney at Motorola. “I was hooked from that first moment and the rest is history,” says Atkins. He was offered an opportunity to train in the Motorola Legal Department, and subsequently attended law school.

After law school, Atkins continued for several years as corporate patent counsel with Motorola. “Working in house gives you a unique insight into the operation and goals of the company. Any patent attorney would benefit from such an experience and have a better understanding of how to represent the total client,” says Atkins. Motorola later spun-off the semiconductor division that Atkins was supporting, which became ON Semiconductor in Phoenix. Atkins was asked to head the new company’s intellectual property department. “It was a $2 billion startup and we had to hit the ground running. There were major issues to be resolved everyday and we no longer had the mother ship for support,” remembers Atkins. “The responsibility was enormous but so were the rewards. I worked directly with the CEO and senior management team, as well as the board of directors on litigation, acquisitions, licensing and strategic application of the patent portfolio.”

Atkins was later offered a partner position at the national law firm of Quarles & Brady in Phoenix. “I wanted to experience private practice,” he says. “The opportunity to work with a variety of clients each with their own business objectives allowed me to apply the many skills and experiences I learned in-house from Motorola and ON Semiconductor. The combined corporate and national law firm experience is most valuable.”

A Firm’s Inception
The years at Quarles & Brady provided Atkins the opportunity to build his own practice, including patent prosecution and litigation matters. He decided to open his own law firm in 2008, with his office manager and paralegal extraordinaire, Maritza O’Neill. O’Neill had worked for many years for major law firms in California. “We took all the lessons learned collectively over the years and applied them to the new enterprise. Almost all of my clients followed us to the new law firm and we had to be ready from the beginning to fully support the clients’ needs,” Atkins says. Atkins focuses on the legal aspects of the firm, while O’Neill handles the administrative operations.

Since the Patent Law Group hung its shingle seven years ago, growth has been steady. In addition to the attorneys, the firm has several staff members, including paralegals, marketing professionals, technical advisors and administrative assistants. “We have plans for continued growth with an active marketing program and, of course, we are always looking for good people,” says Atkins.

The firm focuses primarily on representing medium to large technology corporations. They also work with some startups. The Patent Law Group maintains a network of foreign counsel for obtaining intellectual property rights in other countries. “A significant portion of our practice is foreign patent prosecution,” says Atkins.

“We stay focused on keeping overhead low to keep costs down and make our flat fee billing system work,” says O’Neill. The firm has invested in technology, including an on-site server and workstations with the latest software, to operate efficiently. “We function in a paperless environment with all client files on the server readily available, but well-protected with a dedicated electronic firewall. The firm has state-of-the-art video conferencing equipment to enable effective communication with our clients, both local and outside Arizona,” O’Neill says.

The Patent Law Group focuses on client service and keeping the best interests of its clients in all it does. The firm’s flat fee billing system makes budgeting for clients a known quantity and easy to manage because they know what their fees will be before the work is done. “Clients are never surprised with our invoices,” Atkins notes. That efficiency coupled with the quality representation provided to the Patent Law Group’s clients has helped it gain a formidable reputation in the intellectual property law arena, as exemplified by the awards and letters of recognition it receives from satisfied clients, as well as being named by U.S. News & World Report as one of Arizona’s best patent law firms in 2014.

Internal Culture
A firm is only as good as its people and Atkins believes that he has some of the best attorneys and staff at the Patent Law Group.

“We have a great bunch of men and women,” Atkins says. “They are very energetic and focused on client service. Everyone has a role and they are empowered to perform their roles and they do it very well. We have a client-focused culture. We spend time listening to clients to understand what it is they have done, what they are trying to protect, and what their goals are.

“Our office is organized in a way that makes it very efficient,” he continues. The staff, led by O’Neill who is responsible for all the non-legal functions in the office, does the administrative work leaving the attorneys to focus on legal work. The attorneys work closely with each other, bouncing ideas off each other or discussing strategy.

The office boasts a professional, yet relaxed and friendly culture, where the focus is on getting the job done, but also enjoying being at work. “We take the time to celebrate each birthday and enjoy group lunches together, either brought in or at a local restaurant,” says O’Neill.

Effective April 1, the Patent Law Group moved from Tempe to new offices in downtown Chandler, and now with nearly 11,000 square feet of office space, the firm has plenty of room to expand.

Atkins notes that the firm is strategically placed for future growth, stating, “if you listen to the media, I think there is a clear recognition that innovation is key to the future of our economy,” he says. “It has always been the path to success in the United States, and IP attorneys are uniquely situated to play a very important role in that future. We are very fortunate to be where we are. We will absolutely be adding more patent attorneys, staff and other professionals in the future.”

What will the firm look for in those attorneys and staff? Its careful hiring process includes multiple interviews and review of sample work product to help ensure a candidate would be a good fit for the firm. Grades are important, as well as technical backgrounds. The firm is always looking for a diversity of people, educations and experiences.

“Patent law is a lot of work, so we will be looking for people who want to learn, expand and develop the practice,” Atkins says. “We want that high energy person who strives to get good results for the client.”

Away from the Office

All of the firm’s attorneys and staff work hard and they all have outside interests that help them relax and reenergize. For Atkins, a private pilot, those interests include getting away for the weekend via airplane. He also rides a Harley Davidson, enjoys the beach, scuba dives and regularly works out. Staying active is important to many of the firm members, not only for personal well being but to help stay focused and alert for the intellectually demanding aspects of patent and intellectual property law.

Volunteer and pro bono activities are important to firm members. Coaching youth basketball at the YMCA and walks for charity are some of the community activities they have participated in. Pro bono work is also encouraged and practiced.

Besides being on the cutting edge of innovation, what makes patent law so rewarding for Atkins and all the attorneys and staff at Patent Law Group? “Although we get many patents granted for our clients, we still get excited with each allowance from the USPTO, and often call the client immediately to share the good news,” Atkins says. “We are proud to accomplish our clients’ goals. What I like most about patent law is that it is a creative form of practice. We create property and value that didn’t exist before.”

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