The Financial Services Roundtable, a group that represents 100 of the biggest U.S. financial institutions, raised concerns this week about Foley & Lardner after a firm lawyer authored an article that the group says is a betrayal to the firm’s clients.
The piece, penned by Washington-based Foley & Lardner partner Harold Wegner, highlighted comments made by former Chief Judge Paul Michel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit about a provision in a patent reform bill the House passed in June. One provision in the legislation, called Section 18, concerns business method patents, a class of patents that claims a new method of doing business.
Stephen Maebius, chair of Foley & Lardner’s intellectual property department, said the article came from an e-mail Wegner distributed restating Michel’s comments. The e-mail was not meant to represent the opinion of Wegner or Foley & Lardner, he said. Wegner couldn't be reached.
“These emails are meant to be an educational resource in which information is provided on issues and trends in the IP space,” Maebius said in a statement.
Judge Michel wrote that the Section 18 provision supports financial institutions “in several unjustified ways” and should be removed. He added that the provision would allow the invalidation of patents upheld by the courts, permit hold ups on lawsuits for years and put an additional burden on appeals courts.
Peter Freeman, a vice president of The Financial Services Roundtable, which supports the provision, said in an interview that the article is a “little disconcerting.”
The four-paragraph article by Wegner was titled, “Leahy-Smith ‘Big Banks Bailout’ SEC. 18,” and published July 11 in IP Frontline, an intellectual property and technology magazine. It draws heavily from Michel’s commentary. But Freeman said the piece is “more than just repeating Judge Michel’s critique of Section 18.”
“It is very concerning coming from a firm that many companies rely on to go to bat for them,” he said.
Freeman said Section 18 is beneficial to financial institutions. In a letter to Congress in June, his group, which is based in Washington, and other organizations, including the American Insurance Association, The Independent Community Bankers of America and Mortgage Bankers Association, wrote that the provision would protect financial firms from “meritless patent lawsuits brought by non-practicing entities.”
Foley & Lardner, which has received numerous honors for its intellectual property litigation, has represented U.S. Bancorp and Northern Trust in intellectual property cases. Both are members of the financial services group.
A spokesman for Northern Trust declined to comment. A U.S. Bancorp spokesman didn’t respond to requests for comment.