“Focus on IP Law: A Conversation with Mike Remington”

Mike Remington, a conversation on intellectual property law

Q. How would you describe your legal practice?

My legal practice has three components: first, a copyright law practice with some associated trademark, rights of publicity and privacy work; second, governmental affairs work in the areas of intellectual property law and civil justice reform; and, third, a healthy dose of pro bono charitable and educational work.

Q. When did you know you wanted to focus on IP law?

In 1982, when I was named Chief Counsel of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Administration of Justice by Chairman Bob Kastenmeier, one of the great IP legislators of all time, I thought it might be a good idea to deepen my rudimentary knowledge of IP law.  Earlier in my career, I was a public servant with a variety of good jobs in the three branches of the federal government.  I was a law clerk to a federal district judge.  I worked for the Presidential Clemency Board in the Ford White House; and I also served as an appellate attorney in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.  During this time-period, my focus was on public service.  My work for the House Judiciary Committee introduced me to intellectual property and, over more than a decade, I developed an expertise in the intersection of law and technological change.  I realized how lucky I was to have been thrust into such an interesting area of law, science, society, and economics.  So, my desire to focus on IP law was somewhat akin to a juvenile growing into an adult – it took years to reach maturation.

Q.  What was the most unusual case with which you have been involved?

My most unusual representation occurred in 1981 while I was a public servant working as Deputy Legislative Affairs Officer for the federal judicial branch.  I was asked to represent pro bono a Wisconsin family that was midway through the international process of adopting an orphan girl from one of Mother Teresa’s orphanages in India.  The family had already been declared adoptive parents by an Indian court.  However, a state social worker refused to clear with federal immigration authorities the issuance of a visa, fearing that after the child – born with a club foot – arrived in Wisconsin she would become a ward of the State.  Mother Teresa’s representatives thought that I would be an ideal advocate because I was from Wisconsin and my wife and I had already adopted two orphans from Mother Teresa. With an ethics clearance to work on resolving the matter short of litigation, I pursued a public relations strategy.  Mother Teresa was slated to receive the Pere Marquette Discover Award in Milwaukee, and we decided that we would gently mention the problem in a meeting with the editorial boards of the Milwaukee newspapers, and the roadblock.  The roadblock was removed, a visa was issued; and upon arrival, the little girl was greeted by her parents, in the presence of their town’s  mayor and the high school marching band.

Q. As an attorney that specializes in IP, what is the one thing you wish more people understood about copyright?

I wish that more people, especially those from the younger generations, understood that copyrighted works emerge from the spark of human intellect.  Creative works that reflect American culture – be they music, movies, visual works, computer software, or architecture – spring forth from authors and benefit the public in the form of entertainment, knowledge, and expression.

Q. Do you have a secret (or not-so-secret) creative talent?

People have told me that I have creative talent in the visual arts, including photography, drawing and painting.

Q.  If you could excel in one creative field, what would it be?

It would be a coin toss between oil painting and writing.

Q. What was the last book/movie/concert you really enjoyed?

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, Obama: The Story by David Maraniss; I enjoy all of David’s books.  A recent movie that I really enjoyed is Beasts of the Southern Wild directed by Benh Zeitlin.  And I was highly entertained by a recent Iris DeMent concert.

Q. What was the first record you ever purchased?

My memory may fail me here – we’re talking about a long time ago.  I remember well when my parents bought me my first record player.  We had a big family (six kids) and, being the oldest, I was chosen as the recipient of the record player.  One of the first records I purchased was Go Bo Diddley by Bo Diddley.

Q. What type of job did you have you have before practiced law?

I had numerous jobs before I practiced law.  I went to work the day I turned 16, not because I was forced to work, but because I wanted to earn money and be independent.  I initially worked during summers doing manual labor for a village near Madison, Wisconsin, where I grew up – garbage collection, painting, road construction, and so forth.  I rose in stature by becoming a summer life guard for the University of Wisconsin which is located on a large, scenic lake.  The guard stations and swimming areas were adjacent to the student union and the dormitories.  Life guard jobs were in high demand with hundreds of aspirants subjected to competitive swim times and graded life-saving skills.  Next on the job scene was thirty months of service in the Peace Corps in Ivory Coast, West Africa.  I first lived in a village without either electricity of running water and thereafter moved to a small town where I worked for the Ministry of Rural Construction as a surveyor and construction supervisor.  I became adept at architectural designs, septic tank and sports field construction.  I also learned how to speak French.  As you can see, all of my previous jobs prepared me for the practice of IP law!

Q. What do you like best about working in this field?

 As I stated in response to a previous question, I like working at the vortex of law and technology. 

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