For James Flight, writing a patent claim is a lot like putting together all the pieces of a complex puzzle. It’s just one of the reasons why he loves working at Hanley, Flight, & Zimmerman, LLC, a leading Chicago intellectual property firm.
HFZ’s team not only strives to understand how a client’s new invention works, but how it compares to past technology and how it could fit into the future technological landscape. They must consider these factors as they write the patent claims to avoid the prior art, cover future implementations of the invention, and make it possible to detect infringement.
“It is exciting to face new puzzles every day and to be able to play a role in protecting great inventions for some of the best companies in the world,” said Flight, who co-founded HFZ.
To celebrate the firm’s 20th anniversary, he talked about what distinguishes HFZ from other patent firms.
Flight and his partners founded HFZ because they wanted to build a different kind of patent firm.
When Mark Hanley and Mark Zimmerman invited him to join the practice they were launching, Flight jumped at the chance.
“Mark, Mark and I wanted to do something different — build a firm that rewarded and cultivated excellence,” Flight said.
Unlike other patent firms, HFZ isn’t just a loose collection of independent partners.
“We purposely architected our firm to operate as one with everyone rowing in the same direction,” Flight said. “As such, we cooperatively work to ensure all of our clients are consistently treated well and matched with the best resources for the job at hand.”
Here’s what that looks like in practice: No tug-of-war over associates.
In many traditional firms, associate attorneys are at the mercy of the partners. Partner A wants them to tackle their work first, without considering the associates’ obligations to Partner B. Training and mentorship suffer, and so do the clients and associates.
“We build in internal quality controls that enforce cooperation and keep people from working in isolation,” Flight said. “We are a relatively flat organization where everyone is encouraged to speak up and contribute. We are big believers that open communication brings fresh ideas to the forefront, which leads to innovation and excellence.”
Part of what makes HFZ great is what they don’t do.
The firm doesn’t handle litigation, which is often better left to large general practice firms.
Instead, HFZ is dedicated to patent prosecution — preparing, filing and negotiating for patent protection — and pre-litigation counseling, with a clearly defined focus on electrical, software and mechanical arts.
“Many law firms try to ‘do it all’ and, unfortunately, end up not being very good at anything,” Flight said. “Our focused approach enables us to be excellent at everything we offer.”
Flight is an avid player of board games.
“There has been a Renaissance in board gaming over the last few decades,” he said. “Unlike the games of yesteryear, board games today are not simply ‘roll dice and move around the edge of a board.’ There are many more interesting mechanisms and engaging themes.”
Like “Agricola,” a farming game where players seek a balance between growing their family to handle a larger workload while also having enough food for everyone. Or “Terraforming Mars,” where players compete to be the biggest contributor to raising the oxygen level and the temperature on Mars, so it can permit settlement.
“I enjoy board games because they offer an opportunity to come together having fun around a table with friends and family,” Flight said. “Time together with those we love — what can be better?”
Looking for a good book? Flight recommends the Good Book.
If there’s one title that everyone should read, Flight said, it’s the Bible.
“Whether from a religious perspective, an arts perspective or a historical perspective, I think knowledge of the Bible is essential to an understanding of humanity, current events and history,” Flight said. “The events documented in the Bible are reflected in cultures around the world to this day. I don’t think anyone’s education can be complete without reading it.”
When he needs to take a break, nothing beats birding and fly-fishing.
Getting back to nature is one of Flight’s favorite ways to decompress.
“Just the thought of standing in a stream, watching the fly drift among the swirls of the water over a colorful streambed, makes me take a deep breath and relax,” Flight said. “Similarly, I feel birding tunes me to the ebb and flow of nature as we see migrations in spring and fall.
“If we don’t find ways to stop and look, we can miss the beautiful moments that make up life all around us.”
Flight takes his work seriously because he knows just how important patents are.
Developing new technology is expensive and risky. Granting patents to the companies that make those innovations, gives those companies 20 years of exclusivity to profit from their hard work. Without that protection, many businesses would stop spending money on new ideas, leading to a stagnant economy.
“Quite simply, investors do not make risky investments if there is no opportunity for reward,” Flight said. “The US Patent system has been instrumental in building the most powerful economy in human history and has driven some of the world’s most significant technological developments. We want to keep that system strong as it benefits us all.”