The Big Interview: John Adkisson, firm president and CEO of Fish & Richardson

Fish & Richardson is a magnet for STEM grads. Firm president and CEO John Adkisson tells us more about the firm's strategy, current trends in IP law, and how Fish is using data in its approach to diversity & inclusion.

undefinedundefinedChambers Associate: Could you describe the firm’s market position in three sentences or less?

John Adkisson: Fish is proud to have earned its reputation as a premier global IP firm. We are the law firm that companies trust with their most important IP matters. We have earned these credentials because we bring a broad, solution-oriented approach to our clients’ business, legal and financial needs – and we put their needs first.

CA: What is the firm’s strategy for the next five years?

JA: Our work for clients outside the US is one of the fastest-growing segments of our firm’s practice, and we plan to continue investing in that work. We have a long-standing office in Munich, Germany, and in 2019 we expanded into Asia with the opening of an office in Shenzhen, China. Fish is a perfect match for large multinational clients because of our lawyers’ deep expertise handling high-stakes international cases that span multiple jurisdictions.

On the practice level, Fish has one of the highest profile life sciences patent litigation and Hatch-Waxman practices in the world representing branded pharmaceutical clients such as Gilead Sciences in their high-stakes global litigation, and this work will continue to grow. We also expect our biosimilars litigation practice and our work in the technology sector to continue expanding significantly over the next few years.

CA: Are there developments in the firm’s immediate future you think our readers should be aware about?

JA: We are expecting continued growth across all of our practice areas including IP litigation, patent prosecution and counseling, post-grant, trademark and copyright, and deal-side due diligence. 

"We are planning for a deluge of jury trials for the second half of 2021 as courts try to dig out from the current trial backlog."

We are planning for a deluge of jury trials for the second half of 2021 as courts try to dig out from the current trial backlog. We also expect an increase in different types of IP litigation in 2021 including 5G and IoT disputes related to the rollout of that technology, which will likely extend to sectors outside telecom/handsets; more FinTech litigation due to sunsetting of CBM review; a potential surge of NPE lawsuits given the sale of two large patent portfolios to investors; and more standard essential patent patent owners filing damages suits in the US because of recent FRAND law changes.

CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic? Has the pandemic affected the firm’s long-term strategy? 

JA: It has not. We are fortunate that our firm entered this crisis in a strong, financially advantageous position which allowed us to make smart decisions based on long-term projections and goals. Regardless of economic changes, there will always be a demand for the type of high-stakes, premium legal work – whether it’s in litigation or patent work – that Fish excels at. We plan to be the firm that fills that demand.  

CAWhich sectors/practice areas have been most affected?   

JA: Thankfully, our firm has been counter industry trend across all of our practice areas. On the patent litigation side, we have seen an increase in litigation since Covid hit which we expect to continue through 2021. While our trial lawyers are not in court leading trials every three weeks like before, they are busy with remote hearings and advocacy and preparing for in-person jury trials which are slowly starting to move forward. 

Our patent counseling and prosecution work has accelerated this year and we expect it to continue to grow in 2021. For example, we are on track to file a record-breaking number of patent applications this year – more than last year which was also a record year for us. We have many long-time clients on the patent side who depend on us to develop strong patent portfolios to meet their business objectives. Pandemic or no pandemic, clients need the best patent counsel by their side when the stakes are high and there is no margin for error. 

Trademark work is also booming at Fish and we expect to end the year with more trademark filings than in 2019. Our deal-side IP counseling and due diligence work has also not slowed down for us. We are seeing a considerable number of mergers and acquisitions, especially on the pharmaceutical side, and expect this to remain strong into 2021.

CADoes the firm have any set targets with regards to diversity?

JA: Fish has a long history of diversity and inclusion and we are proud of strides we have made toward achieving the goals set forth in our strategic plan. In 2016, we hired our first Chief Professional Development Officer to support and lead all diversity and inclusion efforts – a role we purposely elevated to a ‘chief level’ because of the importance of diversity to our strategic plan. In 2017, our firm launched a diversity strategic plan, complete with goals, key performance indicators and monthly reporting to our management committee.

Some of the successes over the past few years that we are most proud of include:

  • Creating and implementing a systemic change to our promotion process to reduce bias. This change, combined with the diversity of the pool considered, has led to significant gender diversity into both our non-equity and equity partnership. 
  • Initiating a pilot program in our litigation group to ensure consideration of diverse attorneys for inclusion in every proposal for new work and to include diverse attorneys in business development meetings with clients.
  • Developing a new training program for all associates on how to prepare for the principal process to make the partnership process more transparent. We also implemented structured interviews for summer associate and diversity fellow hiring. 
  • In response to societal issues of racial injustice and systemic bias we launched our Racial Justice Initiative with a commitment from leadership across our firm to have open, ongoing, honest, and difficult conversations about race so that true change can happen. We are deeply committed to doing this work and to doing better. 

"This qualitative, data-driven analyses allows us to focus our efforts on fixing specific D&I failure points and then helps us validate the impact of our D&I efforts with empirical evidence."

In 2019, we also partnered with Mind Gym, a consultancy that uses the latest psychology and behavioral science to study organizational culture, to work on our most recent iteration of our diversity and inclusion strategic plan, which we launched in 2020. It now has a “2.0” after the title, which signifies our approach to iterative improvement. We rely on systemic change management practices, measure what works (and what doesn’t), and hold ourselves accountable for achieving progress. This qualitative, data-driven analyses allows us to focus our efforts on fixing specific D&I failure points and then helps us validate the impact of our D&I efforts with empirical evidence.

Our goal is to advance diversity over the long-haul, not boost numbers overnight. However, by embracing our inquisitive and research-driven culture and bringing a change management approach to diversity, we expect to make progress over time. As famed American poet Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Empirical information helps us to “know” better and thus “do” better to develop and implement targeted action plans where improvement is needed.

CA: What impact could the change in presidency have on the firm?

JA: We don’t expect a big impact. President Biden does not have a deep record on intellectual property issues and it seems unlikely that IP will be anywhere near the top of his priorities as he tackles Covid, the vaccine roll-out, and the economy. However, he has put forth positions on drug pricing and counsel that may impact generics getting approved and on the market. We’ll be watching this closely since it affects our many pharmaceutical clients.

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