Perspective—Opening Statement

Vol. 5 No. 1


Joseph M. Potenza is chair of the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law. He is a senior shareholder of the intellectual property law firm Banner & Witcoff, Ltd., in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at

I am honored to have the opportunity to lead the American Bar Association Section of Intellectual Property Law (ABA-IPL) in this new year. ABA-IPL is the world’s largest organization of intellectual property attorneys and the oldest substantive group in the ABA. The Section’s tradition-rich leadership history makes my own task truly humbling.

The strides we made under the stewardship of our immediate past chair, Robert Armitage, have been profound in all areas, particularly with respect to the Section’s contributions to the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA). ABA-IPL was one of the earliest supporters of the National Academies’ 2004 legislative recommendations that formed the core of the nascent Act. The necessary efforts that followed to help create a new viable patent law were enormous, challenging, and required tireless efforts. Bob’s dedicated, exhaustive, and passionate efforts in shepherding remaining legislative issues when uncertainty of passage prevailed will long resonate in recognition of his service to our patent system. With passage of the AIA and the need for rapid implementation, Bob, along with leaders in our Section’s divisions and committees, assumed a significant and herculean lead in developing and providing timely proposals and recommendations to the USPTO. Past Section leaders, working with our legislative consultant, Hayden Gregory, also deserve substantial credit in helping to shape a new patent system—a system that holds the promise of becoming our most significant patent law in simplicity in operation, objectivity, transparency, and predictability.

In becoming leader of our Section, I am also mindful of those who engendered and nurtured my interest in community service, service to the Bar, and “giving back.” My first mentor, who was also my first employer after law school at Georgetown University Law Center, was Chief Judge Harry Phillips—then Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Judge Phillips often provided lunchtime instructional lessons on the “real practice” of law. A recurring theme was the importance of Bar service: the need to give back, to mentor others, and to better both the profession and our community.

Judge Phillips constantly reminded us that “lawyers have an implied obligation that must be discharged.” He provided continuing encouragement and inspiration, eventually offering me a few days of leave while I drove to my first ABA meeting. Judge Phillips instructed me that it wasn’t important to attend any particular event but that I should just take the initiative to go for what would mark the beginning of becoming a “real” lawyer: learning the organization, getting involved in legal education, networking, providing assistance to community, and joining committees. The judge was the one who suggested the importance of young lawyer activities that led to my involvement in the ABA Young Lawyers Division. His instructions were not merely a suggestion but a charge that informed my understanding of what the practice of law ideally is—to enrich society, our profession, and our individual lives.

In many years of activity within the ABA, I have witnessed the kind of dedication and obligation articulated by Judge Phillips—and assistance, inspiration, and encouragement have so often gone both ways. I suggest that as members of the legal community, we all have these implied obligations that Judge Phillips helped me to appreciate.

At the commencement of my year as chair of the ABA-IPL Section, I reflect on some words of my late partner, Mark Banner, an extraordinary attorney who made countless contributions to mentoring, our profession, legal education, and assisting others within and beyond our Section:

What can I do?
You can recognize that the possibilities are endless if you become involved, reward your co-workers when they contribute to this Section or other associations, recruit at least one colleague to join you in active participation, and respond to your Association’s request for your participation. I can assure you that doing so will enrich your profession, your society, and yes, even your “work life.”

In keeping with Mark’s words, I invite you to participate as an active member of our Section in whatever way that you would like. With more than 40 committees in six substantive divisions, the ABA-IPL Section offers rich opportunities to provide analyses of statutes, regulations, and proposed legislation, as well as amicus contributions and legal education through our programs and publications. Opportunities for policy making are even more significant with passage of the AIA and the emergence of new and exciting issues where your own voice can contribute to the strong voice of the ABA. There is a wide range of activities that you can choose, including pro bono work, diversity action, CLE, membership, and publishing.

We welcome you—and I look forward to working with many of you as we all benefit from opportunities to serve and enrich our Section, the Association, and ourselves.





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