What’s Bothering Patent Law Librarians Today – LOTS! – And How I Found Out

By Lucy Curci-Gonzalez / Executive Director,  New York Law Institute

Every few semesters my good friend and colleague, Ralph Monaco, asks me to talk about patents and patent law research to his advanced legal research class at St John’s University Division of Library and Information Science.  I’ve been involved in  intellectual property law or IP (patents, trademarks, and copyrights) for much of my career, researching patents and patent law, and managing IP law boutique firm libraries.

“While we teach, we learn,” said the Roman philosopher Seneca.  The process of putting together the 90-minute lecture, PowerPoint, reading list, and a homework assignment is very daunting and very rewarding.  The greatest benefit of this effort is that teaching obliges you to keep up-to-date and forces you to find clear and concise ways of expounding on a topic. Best of all, it lets you play visiting adjunct grad school lecturer for the evening and meet the people coming up in the profession.

The lecture I gave this past March was no exception.  One of my PowerPoint slides I always do for this presentation deals with hot topics in IP research – the new and current pain points that law librarians experience dealing with vendors and publishers, the effect changes in the law or new case law have on the way they conduct research, and finally how the present economic landscape of the legal and legal information industries impacts the work of IP information professionals.   New law librarians need to think about how the present-day external business world will influence their careers.  Being aware of these issues gives them a leg-up in an interview or dealing with a new job, and gets them in the good habit of looking for patterns and trends throughout so they can be prepared for change rather than being forced to react to it.

Since I have been out of IP firms for a year, having made the transition from IP big-tique law firm library director to executive director of a non-profit membership law library, the New York Law Institute, I sought the collective wisdom of colleagues.   In March, I posted a question to the AALL Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals SIS Intellectual Property Group discussion list asking my colleagues to tell me what’s been bothering them lately In law librarianship, we get by with a little help from our friends.   My wonderful IP colleagues came to my assistance with a barrage of complaints that I distilled into two slides.

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Coincidentally, on the very morning of the lecture, Above the Law and other legal news outlets were ablaze with  stories about “… the beginning of downsizing for Biglaw IP.”  Ropes & Gray had just announced that it was spinning off about 100 patent lawyers and staff (http://abovethelaw.com/2017/03/ropes-gray-splitting-with-around-100-lawyers-and-staffers).  Could this be the harbinger of the end of a decade-plus period of Biglaw firms absorbing specialized patent firms into their big general practices in a race to see who could cash in on the most IP litigation profits?  The end of Biglaw firms eating up and putting century-old august small and mid-sized law firms of PhD-holding lawyers out of business?  If this story had it right, after all the mergers and closings and layoffs, it was time for yet another shift.  Timely stuff.  And, I had the slides all ready…

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