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Hastings Alumni Mag-Spring 2014

{ ENTERPRISE } And, according to Stern, this was not part of some grand career design: He says he is the “luckiest man” he knows for being at the right place at the right time when he was starting out as a litigator, and IP litigation was not the billion-dollar business it is today. In the ’80s, Stern was working for a small San Francisco law firm when a senior partner asked him to handle a copyright case for a venture-backed video game company. The company was worth only $5 million, but it had a prize-winning software program for Macs that allowed users to print 28 SPRING 2014 greeting cards, calendars, and stationery. A larger and more established company started selling a clone of the same program for PCs. Stern was hired by the startup to file a copyright suit against the bigger company. “I couldn’t even spell the word copyright, and a year later I had my first solo copyright trial, and I won,” Stern says. The case, Brøderbund Software v. Unison World, made international headlines as the first copyright case to cover a utility program’s user interface and launched Stern’s career as an IP litigator. “I have the best practice, and being located in Silicon Valley puts me in the center of the IP and technology world,” he says. Stern’s advice for new IP or tech lawyers: “Be on the lookout for the unexpected opportunity to learn and expand your professional horizons. When it appears, exploit it to the max.” Vital Players in a New Economy Even lawyers like Armin Eberhard ’03, who practice in the traditionally behind-the-scenes area of tax law, say that working for a technology company is nothing like working for companies based on “older” economies. Tax codes and regulations are still playing catch-up with tech companies. “In the older economy, you have products and buildings, and people working in those buildings,” he explains. “With technology, you have intellectual property, and your role as a tax attorney is to help exploit that IP in the most efficient way possible. In most industries, issues relating to tax code and regulations are more settled, but with technology companies, the rules and regulations are constantly changing as the tax code catches up with them.” As a result, tax departments in tech companies are much more integrated in the business operations than in other industries. “Most business executives will make decisions and then tell or ask the tax department afterward,” Eberhard says. But not at technology companies. “We are seen as supporting the operational goal of the company,” he adds. 1L Sean Hanley enrolled at UC Hastings after spending nearly five years as director of compliance at Zynga, maker of the social media game Farmville. The former Silicon Valley executive had been toying with the idea of going to law school 1L Sean Hanley, a former Silicon Valley executive.


Hastings Alumni Mag-Spring 2014
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