Need grows for bilingual lawyers

Though it remains a tough job market for recent law school graduates, patent fights that involve products made in Asia are driving a need for bilingual attorneys.

Jeremy Hobson: Apple and Google are expected to be major bidders at an auction today. Not for some rare artwork -- but for patents from Eastman Kodak, which put 1,100 patents up for sale after entering bankruptcy earlier this year. And Kodak isn't the only game in town when it comes to patents, which have become central to the fight over the future of the tech industry.

That's great news for patent lawyers, as Sabri Ben-Achour of station WAMU in Washington reports.


Sabri Ben-Achour: Alice Ahn is at her desk at law firm Covington and Burling reading from a four-inch thick book. It sounds like Greek, because it’s patent law. Ahn graduated law school in 2010 and was hired in no time, actually in like negative time.

Alice Ahn: I was hired before I graduated.

Not so much for a lot her recent classmates. The employment rate for new law grads has hit its lowest point since 1994. Except in Ahn’s field. Why?

Max Grant: At least in cell phones, it’s become World War III of the patent wars.

Max Grant is a partner at Latham Watkins, which grew its international patent practice 40 percent in just the last year and a half. And he adds it’s not just cell phones.  

Grant: Just about anybody that you can think of -- if you walk into Circuit City or your local Verizon store and just look on the wall, those are the companies involved in these fights.

Given that so many tech companies are in Asia or doing business there, speaking an Asian language helps a lot. Kurt Calia is a partner at Covington and Burling, where Ahn works.

Kurt Calia: If you have a case that involves six million pages of documents in Korean, it would be astronomically expensive to try and translate all of that.

Remember the patent book Alice Ahn was reading out of? She can read it in Korean. And Japanese. That plus a background in computer science means she and lawyers with her skills are pretty set.

And patent fights are likely to continue for as long as there's something to fight over. Given that two of the top five most profitable companies in the world are tech companies, it’s going to be a while.

For Marketplace, I’m Sabri Ben-Achour in Washington.

About the author

Sabri Ben-Achour is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the New York City bureau. He covers Wall Street, finance, and anything New York and money related.

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