May 01, 2018 Perspective

Perspective—Burning the Candle at Both Ends

By Scott F. Partridge

©2018. Published in Landslide, Vol. 10, No. 5, May/June 2018, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—it gives a lovely light!

—Edna St. Vincent Millay

My family lived in the northern Appalachian hills of Pennsylvania, which were once the lands of the mighty Iroquois nation. As a teen I would often go to a red brick, two-story library in my small hometown to read famous poets and do my best at writing a few lines of my own (14-line sonnets being my self-observed forte). I was inspired by the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, who wrote “Renascence” in her late teens and received a Pulitzer Prize for poetry shortly after turning 30 years old. I’m still intrigued by this poem and often recommend it to others for the deep meaning and rhythm it offers. In those days, though, I thought that a point of significance beyond the words of the poem was how much one could accomplish within a short period in one’s life. It was only later that I discovered that Millay had also written about burning candles at both ends, which led me to search all the library shelves for every single book of her poetry and a few others of that era. What has stuck with me to this day is the consistency between the words themselves and what Millay accomplished in a few short years even as a teenager.

I think that good lawyering comes from living life in the way Millay speaks about her burning candle and the resulting light emitted by doing so. We lawyers learn to accomplish much in a short period of time because much is usually expected of us. This is especially true practicing law in the culture created by today’s technology. As different as carbon paper and the telex machine would have been in the 1970s from riding the circuit at the time of Lincoln, today’s practitioners face equally compelling but continually new challenges in serving their clients—all while maintaining a family life and contributing a fair portion of their talents to outside activities. Fortunately for the field of intellectual property (IP) law, our colleagues’ choice of activities is often to become involved in bar associations. Like our own Section of which I am most proud, these associations enable the profession not just to endure but to advance the IP system we so much care about in ways that ultimately serve our society and way of life.

I encourage you to check out some of the recent work that the ABA-IPL Section has done to advance the IP system as a critically important incentive to economic success. One example is the letter we sent to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) regarding renegotiation of the NAFTA IP provisions. Another is our amicus brief in the NantKwest case where we argue that access to justice is denigrated by forcing litigants to pay the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) its attorney fees even when those litigants prevail. Our letter to the USTR on its 301 investigation of alleged IP abuses in China addressed a critical matter for IP and the world. All of this exemplary work and much more was accomplished by the handiwork of the volunteers in this Section, and that work was reemphasized by testimony before the USTR, and meetings with the Director of the USPTO, high officials at the Copyright Office, members of Congress, PTAB judges, and others who play key roles in advancing IP law.

Of course, I highly recommend participating in our work and burning your own candles at both ends to the extent your health, well-being, and personal and professional commitments permit. I can promise that doing so provides a very special “lovely light” of accomplishment.

Hercle qui tu recte dicis!

Scott F. Partridge

Scott F. Partridge is chair of the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law. He is a partner at Baker Botts LLP in Houston, Texas.