Jim Pooley ’70 will serve as deputy director general of the U.N.’s World Intellectual Property Organization
By Samuel T. Clover ’91
When Jim Pooley ’70 moved to northern California to begin practicing law in 1973, college students were still writing papers with IBM Selectric typewriters, and pocket calculators were all the rage. Santa Clara County, where Pooley joined a 10-lawyer firm, was known more for apricot and prune orchards than silicon and semiconductors.
But in the following years, as high-tech replaced horticulture, Silicon Valley — and Pooley’s career in intellectual property law — was born. As entrepreneurially minded employees skipped from firm to firm, taking their ideas with them, companies like Apple, Hewlett Packard, and Sun Microsystems dragged each other to court. Pooley, a passionate litigator, was at the center of it all.
“That’s the way the Valley grew,” he says. “People left one company to start another, and they got sued over an allegation that they had stolen secret information.”
Today Pooley is known as a world authority on trade secrets and patent law, and earlier this year he was nominated by the Obama Administration to become deputy director general of the U.N.’s World Intellectual Property Organization. He was confirmed on June 15, and he will take office formally Dec. 1.
Founded in 1967, the WIPO works to create a standardized system for protecting “inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce,” according to its web site. As deputy director general, Pooley will both oversee the Patent Cooperation Treaty — the system for registering patents in one country and allowing inventors to issue them in others — and encourage cooperation among member states by streamlining procedures and cutting costs.
Part of all this involves helping developing nations identify and use their indigenous brainpower and resources, which Pooley says is “particularly exciting” for someone who watched Silicon Valley morph from an agricultural to a high-tech economy.
As a student at Columbia Law School, Pooley never studied intellectual property law because the school didn’t teach it. “I don’t think when I came [to California] I had any idea what a patent was,” he admits. Attracted to the Golden State’s climate, he wrote letters to every one of the more than 200 law firms in California that had more than eight lawyers, and got an offer from only one firm, in Palo Alto.
“It was like a country law practice,” he says. “We handled everything that came in the door. My first solo jury trial one year out of law school was on behalf of a concrete subcontractor at a Wendy’s restaurant. The dispute was over the quality of the curbs that he had poured in the parking lot. We filed a claim for $570. The other side filed a $5,000 counter claim and asked for a jury trial.” Pooley adds quickly: “And we won.”
Pooley compares preparing for a case to writing a story. “I look for how the story is going to play itself out in front of a jury or a judge,” he says, emphasizing that 95 percent of patent law cases are settled out of court. “What are the points of the tension and the drama? Who did what to whom? Where are the moral lessons in whatever the failure was that led to this dispute?”
One of Pooley’s favorite cases, Quantel Ltd. v. Adobe Systems Inc. (1997), involved not only a good story, but a bit of stagecraft. At issue was Adobe’s Photoshop software, which British software company Quantel Ltd. said had imitated features on its patented products. If Pooley and Adobe lost, Adobe would have had to pay $138 million in damages and essentially withdraw its flagship product.
“The issue was about blending,” Pooley explains. “You cut and paste from one image to another and all of a sudden the edges blend into what’s behind it.”
For one of his expert witnesses, Pooley used an artist who created his artworks with computers. Pooley instructed him to roll out a table covered with paper and get creative. “He drew with crayons and rubbed it with Kleenex like we did in kindergarten,” Pooley says. “And he had pictures of the cave paintings from the south of France — they were over 20,000 years old — that showed this technique of blending. So, we grounded the story of how this technology wasn’t really new into 20,000-year-old cave paintings. It was one of those moments you could see that a jury really got it, they really understood.”
Pooley won that case, too.