Roots in Raising Colorado’s Intellectual Property Community

The Bencher  |  November/December 2023

By James Juo, Esquire

The Colorado Intellectual Property (IP) American Inn of Court has its roots in raising Colorado’s IP community by promoting professionalism and civility since 2010. Harkening back to the roots of the four Inns of Court in London, England, where barristers had been trained for centuries, the Colorado IP Inn mentors law students and young lawyers in IP law along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.

Founding Our Inn

The founding of the Colorado IP Inn began with John Posthumus, Esquire, and Michael Drapkin, Esquire, two patent attorneys who were in the leadership rotation for the IP Section of the Colorado Bar Association. Both wanted to raise Colorado’s profile in IP law and had been advocating for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to establish a satellite office in Denver.

While working on bringing the American Intellectual Property Law Association’s (AIPLA) Electronic and Computer Law Summit to Denver, they met Jack Etkowicz, Esquire, on the AIPLA’s Electronic and Computer Law Committee. As a member of the Benjamin Franklin American Inn of Court, Etkowicz knew that Judge Richard Linn of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was seeking to have at least 10 American Inns of Court focused on IP law formed by 2010. Etkowicz introduced Drapkin and Posthumus to Linn, and the Colorado IP Inn began to take shape.

Linn strongly believed that the involvement of judges contributes to the long-term success of an Inn and offered to contact Wiley Daniel, then the chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, about forming an IP-focused Inn in Denver. Daniel suggested that Judge Philip Brimmer and Magistrate Judge Kristen Mix could help with founding the Inn. Both agreed to be judicial co-founders for the Colorado IP Inn and have actively supported the Inn ever since.

Brimmer, now chief judge, says, “The Colorado IP Inn of Court came charging out of the gate in 2010 and has not slowed down.” A recipient of the 2016 American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the 10th Circuit, he is proud that “the Inn has done a great job in filling the demand in the Colorado IP bar for mentoring, educational, and social opportunities.”

Mix established the Colorado IP Inn’s mentoring program, including its popular Lunch with a Judge program. She was awarded the Linn Inn Alliance Distinguished Service Medal in 2016 for the success of the Colorado IP Inn mentoring program as well as for the Inn as a whole. She says, “Being a part of the IP Inn is one of the highlights of my career. The quality of the dialogue and commitment to mentoring and professionalism is unparalleled, and it was also just lots of fun to hang with these folks.”

Linn also suggested having law professors involved with the Colorado IP Inn. There are two law schools in the Denver area: the University of Denver (DU) and the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU Boulder). Professor Bernard Chao from DU and Professor Harry Surden from CU Boulder both agreed to be founding members for the Colorado IP Inn. Chao currently is the co-director of DU’s Intellectual Property and Technology Law Program and the chair of its Hughes Committee, which supports faculty conducting empirical research. Surden is currently serving as the interim executive director of CU Boulder’s Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. They both have been forceful advocates for law student participation in the Inn.

Next, George Matava, Esquire, a longstanding Denver IP attorney, was recruited to help lead and grow the newly formed Inn as its first president. He previously served as the chair of the Intellectual Property Section of the Colorado Bar Association in 1999.

Finally, Doug Sawyer, Esquire, another prominent local IP attorney, was recruited to be the Colorado IP Inn’s first vice president to help establish the Inn in the Denver IP community. In turn, he recruited his assistant, Cecily Winmill, to be the secretary and treasurer of the newly formed Inn. This arguably was his greatest contribution to the Inn; Winmill has been an amazing asset and mainstay. She is the reason why the Colorado IP Inn regularly has Platinum distinction in the American Inns of Court Achieving Excellence program. Winmill was awarded the 2018 Linn Inn Alliance Distinguished Service Medal for her dedication and “contagiously positive attitude.”

Linn welcomed the Colorado IP Inn to the American Inns of Court in 2010 at a ceremony held at the Federal Circuit’s courthouse in Washington, DC. The Colorado IP Inn was the 13th Inn to join the Linn Inn Alliance with its focus on IP law. More than two dozen Inns are now members of the Linn Inn Alliance.

The Colorado IP Inn began with about 70 members and continues to be one of the largest Inns in Colorado. All of the founding members actively serve on the Inn’s Executive Committee. The Inn’s meetings follow the format of a social hour rather than a sit-down dinner for a more relaxed and convivial atmosphere.

In 2012, the Colorado IP Inn was part of the Federal Circuit/Colorado Coalition that invited the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to Colorado and hosted the group during its visit. The federal circuit held oral argument hearings in Denver and participated in panel discussions and other associated events.

The Colorado IP Inn also works closely with the Rocky Mountain Regional Office of the USPTO in Denver. A number of patent examiners and administrative patent judges are among the Inn’s membership. And the director of the USPTO’s Denver regional office, Mollybeth “Molly” Kocialski, is a past president of the Colorado IP Inn.

In 2019, the Colorado IP Inn, in conjunction with the Colorado Bar Association’s IP Section, sponsored an event at the Wings of the Rockies that celebrated the fifth anniversary of the opening of the USPTO’s Denver regional office.

Mentoring and Outreach

The Inns of Court have a tradition of mentoring young attorneys, and the Colorado IP Inn follows that tradition. This includes having about 20 student members each term to foster interest in IP law and grow the IP community.
In addition to matching law students and young attorneys with more experienced Inn members as mentors, the Inn’s Mentoring Committee also organizes mentoring events throughout the year, including the aforementioned Lunch with a Judge program. Stephanie Vu, Esquire, joined the Colorado IP Inn as a student and participated in the Inn’s mentoring program both as a student and a young attorney and now sits on the board as chair of the Mentoring Committee.

J.T. Lomenick, Esquire, the Colorado IP Inn’s outgoing president, also joined the Inn as a student member. He said it is an “extraordinary opportunity to interact and work with a diverse range of legal minds, from esteemed professors to fresh-faced new lawyers, as well as seasoned veterans from various firms.” He added that he has made “invaluable connections that have resulted in lasting friendships and trusted colleagues.”

The Colorado IP Inn also reaches out to nonprofits and other legal organizations and promotes pro bono legal services. The Inn works closely with the Mi Casa Resource Center, which provides patent pro bono services in association with the USPTO in Denver. Members of the Colorado IP Inn regularly present intellectual property law seminars through Mi Casa. Many attendees are from underserved segments of the local population with limited means to otherwise obtain professional legal guidance.

Inn members also have given presentations to local schools and have assisted the public through the District of Colorado’s Pro Bono Panel and Federal Pro Se Clinic.

The Colorado IP Inn Today and Tomorrow

The COVID-19 pandemic had an immediate impact on how the Colorado IP Inn conducted its meetings. Like many other Inns, a virtual meeting model was adopted. As the pandemic receded, the Colorado IP Inn adopted a hybrid approach in which members had the option of attending in-person or virtually. The Inn returned to regular in-person meetings for the 2022–2023 term.

Recently, in an effort to accommodate the busy professional and personal schedules of its members, the Colorado IP Inn began having two lunch meetings in addition to its regular evening meetings each term. The lunch meetings, held at the District of Colorado’s Alfred A. Arraj Courthouse, typically have a higher attendance of judges and their clerks.

While the Inn has always had a strong emphasis on patent law, its members also practice in other areas of IP such as trademark law. The Inn continues to welcome all professionals who work with IP, including patent agents who are registered to practice patent prosecution before the USPTO but who are not attorneys.

One of the things that makes the Colorado IP Inn special is that, in addition to the traditional Inns of Court interaction between the bench and the bar, the Colorado IP Inn also provides a regular forum for members of the local IP community, including law students, to meet socially. It serves as a hub for collaboration, mentorship, and professional development to nurture and cultivate community.

The Colorado IP community has traditionally been very open and welcoming, and the Colorado IP Inn seeks to foster and continue that tradition with its focus on mentoring younger lawyers while promoting diversity and outreach within the IP community in Colorado.

As the Colorado IP Inn evolves, its commitment to fostering excellence, mentorship, and camaraderie remains unwavering.

James Juo, Esquire, is an experienced intellectual property attorney with the firm of Thomas P. Howard LLC in Louisville, Colorado. He is this term’s president of the Colorado IP American Inn of Court.

© 2023 James Juo, Esquire. This article was originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the written consent of the American Inns of Court.