Raymond Niro, a highly successful patent litigator who represented primarily inventors and other plaintiffs, passed away on August 9 at the age of 73.
It was reported that he was in ill-health and died of heart failure while vacationing in Italy.
IP Law 360 described him as a “pioneering intellectual property attorney and who often represented patent licensing companies and inventors in infringement disputes against larger corporations.”
“If I had to write my obituary – and I hope that I don’t have to do that very soon,” said Niro in May, “I’d say this is a guy who … dedicated his life to try to promote innovation and to help level the playing field for inventors who had to take on some of the big corporations.”
A chapter that Niro wrote for my 2006 book, Making Innovation Pay (Wiley), asks “Who Benefits from Patent Enforcement?” My introduction to the chapter is below.
Profile: Little Guys Like Him
“I don’t have to be liked by everyone, just respected,” Ray Niro once told a reporter.
The founder of Chicago litigation boutique Niro Scavone Haller & Niro has developed a reputation for representing independent inventors and smaller companies in patent lawsuits in which he has an equity stake. To his adversaries, he is often painted as a predator or “troll,” or, at least, representing them; to his clients, he is a white knight.
Niro is praised for giving independent inventors and small companies a voice and for helping them to level the playing field. In the high-stakes poker game that is called patent litigation, spending $10 million or more on a dispute that goes to trial is not uncommon. Needless to say, Niro, whose firm foots the bill for his time and costs, is selective about the cases he is willing to take on contingency.
His team conducts extensive due diligence, which he discusses in the following chapter. He accepts fewer than 20% of the cases his firm reviews. By any standard, Niro’s track record is impressive: more than $500 million won in jury and bench trials and in settlements in more than 200 patent cases over 20 years. His best-known cases include a $57 million jury verdict in a trade secret suit against a snowmobile manufacturer and its engine supplier, which was later increased to $75.5 million; a $48 million jury award against an ink manufacturer; and a $20 million patent infringement award against Square D Company.
In 1997, the National Law Journal named him “one of the ten best U.S. litigators,” and in 1999 it named him “one of the ten best trial lawyers in Illinois.” Contingency wins, where he might share 40% or more of the recoveries, have made Niro a wealthy man. He lives most of the time in Boca Raton, Florida, and has a home in Aspen, Colorado, which he built with former partner, Gerald Hosier, who is best known for generating more than $1 billion in damages and royalties on behalf of inventor Jerome Lemelson, a known patent submariner until a 1996 change in the patent law to 20 years’ exclusivity from filing effectively ended the loophole. (The Lemelson-MIT Program, endowed by the Lemelson Foundation, rewards unsung inventors. MIT describes Lemelson as “one of the world’s most prolific inventors.”)
Niro loves to go to trial. At 67 years old, the admitted sports fanatic remains fighting fit and lifts weights for 45 minutes four times a week and cycles in Aspen’s 8,000-foot altitude. He owns a Falcon 10 jet and at one time owned six Ferraris, including two 360 Spiders and a 575 Maranello. He has 10 grandchildren and million, which the trial judge later increased to $20 million. Calabrese died 19 days later. “Frank was grateful for what Ray Niro did for him,” said Kathleen Calabrese, the inventor’s widow.
“Ray was the only attorney we could find [who was] willing to take the case on contingency. He worked hard and never gave up on Frank.”
But not all of Niro’s has been married to the same woman for 41 years. The son of an immigrant bricklayer from Abruzzi, Italy, Niro grew up in Pittsburgh, where he says he learned to root for the underdog and still does.
Trained as a chemical engineer, Niro is still able to connect with juries and judges. “I learned early on that as a litigator you need to tell a story that juries and judges understand,” he told me. “You can’t talk down to anyone. I get great personal satisfaction from helping people to win cases that may not otherwise have been heard.”
Frank Calabrese was an underdog. A Waynesboro, Pennsylvania inventor, he claimed his invention, a patented data relay system, was stolen by Square D in the 1980s. He sued when he discovered that the company had been marketing a similar system and refused to pay him for it. In the four years it took for the case to go to trial, Calabrese developed colon cancer.
“Towards the end of the trial,” says Niro, “Frank, who was dying, told me ‘the money doesn’t matter. I want to be vindicated.’” And vindicated he was on January 26, 2000, when a jury awarded Calabrese $13.2 clients are defenseless little guys. Some are investors, like publicly traded Acacia Technology (NASDAQ: ACTG), which buys patents and asserts them because they understand some companies’ aversion to risk and low tolerance for the costs associated with complex patent litigation. To that Niro responds that while he prefers to work directly with inventors and small companies, middlemen can benefit the system and have the right to exist.
Niro’s chapter, “Who Benefits from Patent Enforcement?” discusses the importance of asserting patent rights not only for the less resourceful plaintiff but for society as a whole and for innovation. “When it comes to using patents for business advantage,” concludes the bearded litigator, “the little guy is not the one who is gaming the system, although many defendants would like you to think so.”
Photo caption from book: It’s the high life for litigator, Ray Niro, who tools around in his Ferrari near Independence Pass (elevation 12,095 feet), not far from his Aspen home.
Those wishing to read Raymond Niro’s chapter in Making Innovation Pay can order here.
Image source: legalexecutiveinstitute.com