Two Dorsey partners and four associates head to Winthrop & Weinstine, which aims to grow its intellectual property practice.
The Minneapolis law firm Winthrop & Weinstine moved into the lucrative practice of intellectual property and patent law with a splash Monday, luring a sizable chunk of the Twin Cities patent practice of international giant Dorsey & Whitney.
In a daylight raid that had origins late last fall, Winthrop & Weinstine brought six Dorsey patent attorneys into its fold, including Devan Padmanabhan, the head of Dorsey's patent practice in Minneapolis. The defecting group incudes an additional partner and four associates. All are now on the job at Winthrop & Weinstine.
"This is our big entré into the patent world," said Winthrop & Weinstine President Scott Dongoske. "It's lucrative, and it's required these days. Intellectual property and patent law are important aspects in virtually all business transactions. People need to protect their property rights."
Dongoske said his 102-attorney firm did not have a dedicated patent practice group until recently.
"We decided to go into this area about a year ago and started talking to Devan [Padmanabhan] around Thanksgiving," Dongoske said.
Dorsey spokesman Bryn Vaaler said the departures came as a surprise but are not unusual in the current legal environment.
"It's a fluid world, and people are moving from firm to firm to firm," Vaaler said. "It's amazing how few times that has happened at Dorsey."
Patent applications and patent protection is a big practice in Minnesota, with its concentration of high-tech businesses. Several national firms have significant offices in Minneapolis for just that reason, including Fish & Richardson and Fulbright & Jaworski.
"This is a big IP town," said University of Minnesota law Prof. Herbert Kritzer. "Presumably, Winthrop & Weinstine felt this is an area that will work for them. The question is, is there a hope that these folks will bring clients with them?"
Although the departures are a setback to Dorsey's patent practice out of its Minneapolis office, the firm still has 50 patent attorneys spread throughout its system, with the largest practice in its Denver office.
"This is just one piece of the puzzle," Vaaler said.
But the departures are a psychological blow to Dorsey, which recently lost its standing at the state's largest law firm when the number No. 2 firm, Faegre & Benson, merged with Indianapolis-based Baker & Daniels this month to become the largest firm in the state as Faegre Baker Daniels.
As for the financial implications of the move, Dongoske said the new hires have brought some clients with them to Winthrop & Weinstine. "We're hoping the rest follows. But I'm sure Dorsey is fighting hard on the other side," he said.
Dorsey's Vaaler said, "We have yet to see how much [business] has walked out the door. No firm wants to watch that happen. I'm certain he [Padmanabhan] would like to see that. We would like them not to do that. The legal services pie is not getting any bigger, so if you want to add revenue you bring some of that pie with you."
Padmanabhan, who will lead Winthrop & Weinstine's patent litigation practice, has 18 years' experience handling intellectual property cases. Clients included Cargill Inc. and Fair Isaac Corp.
The other partner joining Winthrop and Weinstine from Dorsey is Sri Sankaran, an intellectual property and patent trial lawyer with 20 years of experience.
David Phelps • 612-673-7269