Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

High-tech law & intellectual property

Intellectual property law has become one of the hottest legal practice areas in the state. Over the past five years, the number of patent and trademark filings by Florida residents rose 34% to 38,582, exceeding a 28% increase nationwide.

Meanwhile, federal courts in Florida handled 230 new patent infringement complaints last year, up nearly 50% from 2010, according to Orlando-based law firm Allen, Dyer, Doppelt, Milbrath & Gilchrist (ADDMG).

An improving economy is creating more work for IP lawyers. “In an upturn market, you see a lot of companies exploring new trademarks and patents to register,” says Jorge Espinosa, an IP attorney and founding member of Espinosa Trueba Martinez in Miami. “They also have more money to go after infringers.”

Nearly 140 lawyers statewide are board certified by the Florida Bar as experts in IP law, up from 80 lawyers in 2007 (when the organization first began issuing IP certifications).

“Florida has become far more technologically sophisticated, and we have, too,” says Ava Doppelt, an IP attorney and shareholder at ADDMG, a 44-year-old IP boutique firm. “Some of the science is so high level that even if you’re an electrical engineer, it’s very difficult to understand.”

A look at some of the players in Florida’s IP legal marketplace:

Woody Pollack

Tampa patent attorney Woody Pollack is a Stanford-educated computer scientist and shareholder at GrayRobinson. He also chairs the Florida Bar business law section’s intellectual property committee.

A son of two doctors from Clearwater, Woody Pollack went off to Colby College in Maine 23 years ago thinking he would follow in his parents’ footsteps. He realized that “blood and guts are not for me,” however, and he switched his major from pre-med to computer science.

Afterward, Pollack completed a master’s in computer science at Stanford University and worked for several years as a software engineer in Silicon Valley.

He developed what he calls professional envy and changed his career plans again, saying he yearned for more control over his own destiny. “Startups are fun, but luck is a lot more in play than skill alone,” he says.

In 2003, he and his wife, who was already an attorney, moved to the Tampa Bay area, where Pollack enrolled in Stetson University College of Law. Unlike many first-year students, he knew exactly what type of law he wanted to practice.

As a patent attorney and shareholder in the Tampa office of GrayRobinson, Pollack now represents companies — including Silicon Valley startups — seeking to bulk up their patent portfolios and protect their rights against infringement. His areas of expertise include database encryption, anti-virus software, medical devices and mechanical processes.

“I get to help people with their problems,” he says. “Their problems are technical, and that satisfies my engineering curiosities.”

Grace Zhao

At Allen, Dyer, Doppelt, Milbrath & Gilchrist in Orlando, Grace Zhao has worked with inventors of products ranging from hyperbaric chambers to a wireless dog leash.

The daughter of an aeronautical engineer, Grace Zhao was on track to be an academic researcher. In 2010, she was finishing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Louisiana Tech University when she began to think twice about her future career path.

“I saw a lot of uncertainties,” she says, citing tight funding for academia. “I started to look at other opportunities.”

At the time, her husband was a physics professor at the University of South Florida and had applied for patents with a patent agent’s help. Zhao, who’s originally from Beijing, figured patent law would be a good fit for her, and she passed the patent Bar exam on the first try.

As a patent agent at Allen, Dyer, Doppelt, Milbrath & Gilchrist in Orlando, she prepares and files patent applications relating to electronic arts, biotech, biomedical engineering and nanotechnology, among other areas. She’s worked with inventors on everything from a hyperbaric chamber system to a wireless dog leash.

“I think it’s very important to understand what the inventor is talking about,” Zhao says. “That’s precisely why a lot of law firms hire people with Ph.D.s.”

Peter Koziol

Peter Koziol is a partner in the Boca Raton office of Assouline Berlowe and helps lead the firm’s intellectual property practice.

Originally from Westchester County, New York, Peter Koziol knew he wanted to be a computer programmer before graduating from high school. He landed a summer job with a local software company and went on to study computer science at the State University of New York at Albany.

With a bachelor’s degree, Koziol returned to his hometown company to eventually become its software quality assurance manager and ran his own firm developing business management software. Then, he decided to go to law school.

“I wanted to do something more than program computers,” he says. “I was getting a little bored.”

In 2006, he graduated from Case Western Reserve University School of Law and started his career as a patent attorney with Assouline Berlowe in Boca Raton.

His technical knowledge — as well as some Russian language skills — came in handy several years ago when he took on a patent and copyright infringement case involving two Russian companies that had created password-cracking software.

The plaintiff, Moscow-based ElcomSoft, accused Koziol’s client Passcovery, based in St. Petersburg, Russia, of stealing proprietary source code and other infringements.

Both companies’ software programs use graphic cards found in computers and video game systems to quickly guess large numbers of computer passwords. Koziol says that while he might not understand the technology as well as the National Security Agency, he knows enough to address the legal issues.

“For me, it’s about solving a problem and understanding how technology works. The harder the problem, the more I enjoy it,” he says.

Ultimately, a federal judge in Alexandria, Va., threw out the case on jurisdictional grounds, handing Koziol’s client a victory.

John Rizvi

John Rizvi is founding partner of The Idea Attorneys in south Florida and teaches IP law as an adjunct professor at the Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center.

As a child, says John Rizvi, “I would take a screwdriver to a Rubik’s Cube and take it apart to figure out how it worked. I wanted to create a spherical Rubik’s Cube.”

The son of an engineer, Rizvi got his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Florida Institute of Technology. There, one of his professors had worked out some ideas for highway design and was trying to get them patented. Rizvi became intrigued by the patent process and began to contemplate a career in law.

“I always saw the two fields” — engineering and law — “as completely separate.” He says that while he excelled at math and science, he also wrote poetry and liked the idea of using both skill sets.

Rizvi worked for two years as a structural design engineer in south Florida before deciding that it just “wasn’t my passion.” While attending the University of Miami School of Law, he worked as a patent agent at a local law firm, drafting and filing patent applications for clients.

He later joined a New York City boutique IP law firm whose client roster once included Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, but left to strike out on his own. Rizvi says he was frustrated by the fact that he had gotten into IP law to work with inventors, and instead found himself spending most of his time with in-house lawyers for corporate clients.

He returned to south Florida and teamed up with a former UM classmate, Glenn Gold, who had worked at Motorola. In 2001, they formed Gold & Rizvi and branded the firm “The Idea Attorneys,” trademarking the name and marketing to startups and independent inventors. Today, the firm has 17 employees and main offices in Coral Springs and Jupiter.

Rizvi charges a fl at fee for preparing a patent application. The cost ranges from $5,000 to $15,000, depending on the complexity of the invention.

“Software applications on smartphones have opened up an incredible new market for patent services,” he says. “It’s very rare to see an unemployed patent attorney.”