Olivia Poppens and Dennis Wilson | Brand management and content protection: What does a career in trademark and copyright look like?

BCLT Careers in Tech podcast

Trademark and copyright are important areas of Intellectual Property. Career paths, however, are less obvious than in other areas of IP. How, or should, you pursue a career in trademark and copyright law?

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Episode Transcript


people, trademark, clients, litigation, work, dennis, firm, teams, practice, rights, kilpatrick, copyright, law, counseling, area, dispute, infringe, olivia, specialize, ip


Olivia Poppens, Wayne Stacy, Dennis Wilson


Wayne Stacy  00:00

Welcome, everyone to the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology’s Career in Tech podcast. I’m your host Wayne Stacy, the Executive Director for BCLT. And today we’re talking about careers and trademark and copyright law. So often when people talk about IP, they immediately gravitate toward patents. Trademarks, copyrights, brand protection, content protection are incredibly important areas of the law, and they just don’t often get the attention that they deserve. And to talk about these important areas of the law today, we have two experienced attorneys from Kilpatrick Townsend and Stockton joining us. We have Dennis Wilson. Dennis is a partner at Kilpatrick and Townson. And we have Olivia Poppens, who is a Berkeley alumni. So welcome to both of you.


Dennis Wilson  00:50



Olivia Poppens  00:51

Thanks so much for having us.


Wayne Stacy  00:52

So Dennis, what we’ll start with you, maybe the best way to explain what a path in brand protection content protection looks like is to tell us what your typical day looks like, what kind of cases do you handle?


Dennis Wilson  01:05

So I think goes back to understanding that area of the law a little bit. Copyright law, for example, protects artists expressions. And so the idea is that if you create a song or a video or a book, that we want to encourage that kind of creative output. And so we give those artists the chance to control how that content is distributed. And so you want to, as a society, protect those artists rights. And then at the same time, most of the people listening want to be able to take a clip of the TV show they’re watching and text it to their friend or post it online, and they don’t want to pay for it. And they want immediate access to everything. And so we have this, this constant balancing of artists rights and users rights. And we see that play out all the time in our clients work. So we look at a filter that’s going to be pushed out and developed for a social media platform. And we think about the balancing of does this infringe anyone else’s rights? Or does it parody anyone? And is that okay, from a First Amendment protection kind of standpoint. Daily process that we go through is looking at the underlying rights that may be implicated by a new product or service that’s being offered, or a new name, or title of a, of a product or movie, and trying to decide whether or not it’s fair to use it, or whether it impinges the rights of others. And so it’s a constant balancing. And that could be just in advice and counseling and giving people a gut check on whether or not something should go through, or it could be a full kind of litigation analysis. And sometimes that those are the kinds of disputes that we end up litigating, but at their core, it can be, you know, five minute phone calls, two years long litigation, but it all kind of comes down to the same thing.


Wayne Stacy  03:09

Did I say I’d love to hear a little bit more about that, that point that in your practice, you end up doing counseling, and a fair amount of counseling, in addition to litigation, where some people may think litigators are just litigators, they’re there once the fight has started, part of what you’re doing is preventing the fight from ever starting.


Dennis Wilson  03:32

It’s a huge part of. It is both analyzing whether or not some new product or service or name that my client is considering would create a dispute and what that dispute would look like and whether they would eventually win or not, even if it becomes a dispute, and also on the other side, looking at what other people are doing around the world, and deciding whether or not that’s worth objecting to, and how that’s going to impact our rights. So pre litigation, discussions go on all the time. And then they often go on with the between the parties, right? So there’s a lot of discussion before the litigation happens about whether or not there’s a way to coexist, or there was a way to rebrand or what can be done in the marketplace short of having to fight it out in court.


Wayne Stacy  04:24

Well, Olivia, and you’re on the newer end of this practice, tell me what your day to day workload looks like.


Olivia Poppens  04:33

Every day is different. And I think that’s what I like so much about this job is I’ll have an email from Dennis one morning that says, Hey, can you figure out if the bouncing ball on karaoke that goes over each word when you sing is copyrightable or I’ll have, hey, you know, we have this app that’s potentially infringing our mark of one of our clients in Turkey. Can you get on the phone with counsel and figure out if, if there’s anything we can do? Should we submit a takedown what can we do? So it just really varies on a day to day. And some of it’s a little bit more, you know, I’m doing it every day. I’m on certain teams, and we’re working with the same client. So it’s a little bit more repetitive. But for the most part, it’s something new. And it’s been so interesting to kind of fly by the seat of my pants in that way.


Wayne Stacy  05:21

Well, I’m gonna build on something you said there about it, you’re on teams. So I think that’s a an interesting thing. For for people newer to the profession to hear about that. You don’t go into your office and shut the door and stay alone all day. Maybe  in some practices, but not this one. So tell me about what the teams look like and how you see them structured.


Dennis Wilson  05:46

Yeah, so this is definitely a very team oriented practice. So we have huge clients that have massive portfolios, right. And so you have people that are filing trademarks on certain teams, you have people that are enforcing against use of their trademarks, by bad actors. And you also have people that are enforcing on, you know, the trademarks registry. So you have these massive teams that are doing all of these different things. And so when I started at Kilpatrick, Dennis came into my office on the first day and said, Hey, you’re on this team and this team, you know, get going. And we’ve got these people working with you, and, and they’re ready to show you the ropes. And so, you know, you kind of get to build your practice within those teams. For example, I do registry enforcement for a few of my clients. So a mark comes in, that’s, you know, using a component of one of our clients marks and on the registry, and we look at that, we send demand letters, we work with foreign counsel if it’s in a different country, and do that. And so that’s kind of the work I’m doing on a more standardized basis. It’s not those one off things. And it’s really, it’s fascinating, I feel like I’ve grown so much in the last three years getting to do that work more frequently. And it’s also great just to work on a team and not just shut my door in the morning, as you said and collaborate.  Just to jump in there, I I had a client who was at a startup company that did very well and is a well known company now. And he was able to retire early and move to France and raise his daughter in Paris. And it sounded kind of idyllic. And I asked him after a couple years, how it’s going, how does he like being early retired. And he said, it’s great. But the one thing you really miss is being in a room of smart people solving problems. And that really resonates with me, it’s nice to be part of these groups of lawyers who can figure out a new technology and apply the slightly behind law to the situation and kind of predict what the right outcome would be. And give good advice to the client and being around smart people at all levels of experience who can all give their input, is really a great way to practice.


Wayne Stacy  08:00

Well, between the two of you, I’ve heard you talk about large clients with huge portfolios, and ow startups, it seems that the size of your clients varies a lot in this practice.


Dennis Wilson  08:13

It can for sure, yeah. Yeah, I mean, everyone’s got a company name. So everyone needs a trademark. And lots of people have some amount of IP that they want to protect non patent IP. And there’re often conflicts, because I forget what the statistic is exactly. But there’s something like three times more apps in the App Store than there are words in English language. So they’re going to be conflicts and having some guidance on how to navigate that is universal no matter what your size.


Wayne Stacy  08:52

And, you find in even in big law, you’re representing companies of all sizes.


Dennis Wilson  08:57

Yeah, that’s right.


Olivia Poppens  08:59

Smaller companies are actually really, really interesting to work out because obviously, you’re going to have a leaner team. And so I’ve found as an associate, I really liked working on those smaller clients that ended up being just the associate and the partner and you get to learn a lot more. You’re doing a lot more on your own. And so some of those smaller clients end up being really, really interesting and sometimes very challenging as well.


Wayne Stacy  09:22

So, Dennis, this is kind of a question for you in terms of how you build out your teams and what you’re looking for in, especially junior attorneys, to that will end up working on your teams.


Dennis Wilson  09:38

I think that kind of goes back to recruiting into what we’re looking at when we’re meeting people from law schools. At the time you do on campus interviewing, no one’s had a soft IP class. No one’s had a trademark or copyright class because they haven’t had any electives yet. And so it’s hard to find the people who are going to be interested in specializing in this area at the time, we’re hiring them right out of law school. And because we have a big trademark and copyright team, it’s 120 lawyers. And we do nothing but the soft IP area, once you’re part of the firm, you learn really quickly. So our third year here is really experienced compared to someone who has an occasional trademark case or one issue come up every once in a while at a at a firm that doesn’t specialize so much. So there’s a little window of time when you can come and learn and not be way behind. And so trying to find people who have the right interests, who are going to fit in with this practice, is really part of the trick. It’s identifying people who like language and are interested in the arts and understand psychology or PR communications, it’s a lot of those types of people that have those interests in and like pop culture, they like social media, and they like entertainment, and, and fashion. And if those are some of your interests, and you want to do work for the leading companies in those areas, this is really an area that fits with you. And that will lead to success as a young associate, because you like the clients you’re working for.


Wayne Stacy  11:27

Olivia, I was gonna leave you with one of the last questions here. Let you guide the students Dennis was talking about. If I’m a student, that’s just beginning to investigate this, you know, what questions should I be asking during interviews or during career fairs? Or asking my colleagues that maybe did a summer last year?


Olivia Poppens  11:51

That’s a very good question, I think, understanding what the trademark and copyright practice looks like at a firm, many firm are litigation transactional. And if you go into litigation, you’re doing general litigation, or you’re doing, you know, patent litigation, which requires a little bit more specialization, I’d say. But when you’re doing general litigation, you’re not getting that straight trademark and copyright experience. There are a few firms other than ours that do, you can go into a trademark and copyright group and really specialize but it’s more rare. And so I think if that’s something you’re really interested in making sure at the outset, that the firm’s you’re looking at have those groups and you can be dedicated to those groups is really important. I have friends from from law school that went to firms with one anticipation of what they were going to do and didn’t end up getting to do that. So I think it’s just really important for all if you even if you don’t want to do trademark and copyright to figure out ahead of time, you know what you want, and if that firm is offering offering those things. And beyond that, I think just knowing if you want to do transactional or litigation is something to start thinking about as a first year, but at the end of the day, you can kind of do both at certain firms. So that’s where I’d start. As a first year. I knew I wanted to do trademark and copyright. So it was a little bit easier for me coming in. And I got really lucky as a 1L and found Kilpatrick Townsend and summered both summers and didn’t do the on campus interviewing thing. So it was a little bit of a different situation for me, but I think those are the questions I would have been would have been asking otherwise.


Wayne Stacy  13:28

Dennis, any any advice for the students that are curious?


Dennis Wilson  13:33

I’ve had people in the past reach out to junior lawyers at our firm, just emails from students, I see that you’re in this practice area. And I’m interested, I wonder if we could get coffee or jump on a zoom. And I can hear a little bit about it. And lawyers love to talk about their practice, I’d love to talk about themselves and love to share and mentor law students and don’t always get the chance to do it. So I’ve seen that be a really effective way to learn about a practice. And I’ve done it a ton myself. And I’m happy to take those kinds of calls. And I think a lot of people are, so you can reach out directly. If there’s someone that is doing something that you think is interesting, and you might want to pursue it, you probably get a good response.


Wayne Stacy  14:23

Well, I want to thank you both for your time. Like I said at the beginning, this is an area that doesn’t get the attention it deserves and I hope we can help raise the profile and get more students to thinking about it. Thank you.


Dennis Wilson  14:36

Thanks very much.


Olivia Poppens  14:37

Thank you.