The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Daniel Zaheer—Partner, Intellectual Property & Technology Litigation
Daniel Zaheer advises clients in high-stakes litigation with a focus on patent infringement, trade secret and other intellectual property disputes. Mr. Zaheer’s practice centers on enforcing intellectual property rights and defending against charges of infringement in a variety of industries, including wireless communication systems, mobile device interfaces, biotechnology and mobile applications.
Prior to joining Kobre & Kim, Mr. Zaheer practiced at Kerr & Wagstaffe LLP. Earlier in his career, Mr. Zaheer served as a law clerk to the Honorable Charles R. Breyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and the Honorable Raymond C. Fisher of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Mr. Zaheer also served as deputy city attorney for the City and County of San Francisco and practiced at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges LLP.
Please provide an overview of what, substantively, your practice area entails.
I focus on high-impact intellectual property disputes, with a particular emphasis on patent and trade secrets matters with a cross-border element or in which my clients are pitted against major multinationals. Kobre & Kim’s conflict-free model and international footprint uniquely positions us to provide special value to clients seeking to protect their innovations against infringement and misappropriation.
What types of clients do you represent?
I’m privileged to represent innovators from government, startup and academic backgrounds, as well as large publicly traded companies. As you would expect from our firm’s global model, my clients hail from North America, Asia, Europe and Australia. For example, I’m especially proud to have represented the Government of Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, in protecting its groundbreaking wireless and biotech inventions.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
In addition to my work for CSIRO, examples of my patent litigation matters include representing a European engineering and design firm in asserting network infrastructure patents against several large U.S. companies and representing an Illinois-based startup against leading consumer electronics OEMs in relation to a patent on mobile device architecture. My recent trade secret work has included the successful defense of a Korean pharmaceuticals company against a competitor in relation to allegations concerning botulinum toxin processing techniques and bringing a suit on behalf of a U.S. life sciences company against former employees for misappropriation of patent rights to a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease. I also have an active technology-related commercial litigation practice outside of the patent and trade secret contexts. For example, I defended IBM against breach of license and copyright claims brought by a former supplier, which resulted in summary judgment on all claims and a court order that the other side pay a substantial portion of IBM’s fees.
How did you decide to practice in your area?
I began my career as a law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where my judge’s docket was filled with complex and fascinating patent and other technology-centric disputes. I continued to work on intellectual property matters in the ensuing years as an associate at Quinn Emanuel and as a clerk on the Ninth Circuit. But I had a yearning to hone the craft of trying cases to juries, so I took a job as a trial attorney for the San Francisco City Attorney’s office. It was there that I learned how to digest difficult legal and factual concepts for consumption by laypeople. When I later returned to the private sector, I realized that I could bring unique value to my clients by leveraging my trial experience to solve one of the most difficult problems confronted by technology lawyers: how to translate dense and complex technical matters so that they can be understood by judges and juries. I’ve built my practice around that value, combining my love for trial advocacy with a lifelong interest in science and technology.
What is a typical day or week like in your practice area?
I am fortunate to see tremendous variation from day to day. My days may include interviews with clients or witnesses, meetings with experts, developing strategy with a client or with my excellent Kobre & Kim colleagues, or digging into an engineering text to develop my understanding of the science underlying my cases. Of course, I also relish the nuts and bolts of lawyering: taking depositions, writing briefs, arguing motions, or presenting at trial.
What is the best thing about your practice area?
In addition to the great pleasure of working with tremendous clients and the rush that comes with a trial-focused practice, I enjoy that I am constantly learning about new technological disciplines across the whole of the scientific continuum. This not only satisfies my natural intellectual curiosity, it also allows me to tell my clients’ stories in a way that is accessible and compelling.
What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?
One of the pitfalls of high-stakes IP litigation is that opposing lawyers sometimes have an instinct to fight tooth and nail on every issue, even on minor points that are likely to be meaningless to the end result. This can lead to unnecessary contentiousness. It is important, and sometimes challenging, to not be drawn into a wasteful tit-for-tat but instead to maintain a clear-eyed view of the client’s goals and the shortest path to reach them.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Find a way to get trial experience. Every day in my practice I encounter lawyers on the other side who have never been to trial and, as a result, lack a sound understanding of how to prepare a case for trial. Discovery is not an end unto itself, but many lawyers fall into the bad habit of treating it that way.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area? What do you wish you had known before joining your practice area?
I often hear from non-IP lawyers that one needs a PhD in order to be an effective patent lawyer. They don’t realize that technical knowledge is not valuable unless you can use it to be a persuasive advocate for your client. Some of the strongest patent lawyers in our profession have liberal arts backgrounds and virtually no academic training in the scientific disciplines in which they practice. But they possess the communication and strategic abilities to be fantastic patent lawyers. Their lack of technical knowledge might even be an asset, as they can more easily translate the science to judges and juries.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm, and how has it evolved since you have been at the firm?
My Kobre & Kim colleagues include lawyers working in subject matters that may, on the surface, seem far afield from IP litigation—including white collar, trusts litigation, financial services litigation and international judgment enforcement. But during my time at the firm, we have come to realize that our practices have substantial overlap. An IP client may obtain a judgment from a Chinese company that requires a sophisticated enforcement strategy; a creditor in a bankruptcy might need to determine if the debtor’s IP assets can be monetized; or a company accused of trade secret theft may also draw the attention of prosecutors, requiring an internal investigation.
What activities do you enjoy when you are not in the office, and how do you make time for them?
I enjoy spending time with my family, in particular hiking among the redwoods or exploring the rest of the San Francisco area. It certainly is a challenge to be the best lawyer and father/husband I can be. But I’ve found that both are possible so long as I keep a well-organized calendar and stay disciplined about sticking to it.