Managing IP has learned that the idea of a merger was first discussed at a dinner between Gordon Harris, Wragge’s head of IP, and Robert MacDonald, leader of Gowlings’ IP group, at the INTA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC in 2012.
“The discussions have been gradually moving forward since then,” said Harris, who first visited Gowlings in Ottawa back in 1991. “We are both full-service firms, but we also both have a substantial IP practice, which is increasingly unusual … IP was core to this, and Rob and I started the whole thing off.”
“Gordon and I have been very involved throughout the discussions,” added MacDonald (right), “and we’ve both been very excited about it. Our management teams bought into the idea, did the due diligence and have driven it forward.”
MacDonald said that during the discussions “we found matches on a number of levels”, including in IP work. For example, there were synergies between Gowlings’ French-speaking Montreal office, and WLG’s Paris office.
Worldwide – but not in the US
The combined firm will have 18 offices in Canada, Europe, China and the Middle East. But it said in a statement that it will add other firms “in strategically important regions”.
Speaking to Managing IP following the “overwhelmingly positive” partners vote on Monday this week, MacDonald and Harris said that there would likely be expansion in Europe (for example in Germany), Asia and Africa, but not the United States.
“Both firms have tremendously strong relationships in the US and we want to continue to work with the best law firms in that jurisdiction,” said MacDonald.
Harris described the new firm as an “Anglo-Canadian venture” providing English-language, common law expertise, including to US clients: “We think it will be a distinctive alternative offering, with footprints around the world but leaving us open to the vast majority of US firms.”
IP prosecution work
Both partners also confirmed that Gowling WLG will not handle patent, design and trade mark prosecution in Europe, even though these services are offered in Canada, Russia and China. “We think together we will be able to provide stronger cross-referral opportunities with prosecution firms in Europe,” said Harris.
The new firm will have some 70 IP partners, with specialisms in litigation, transactional work and life sciences, where it acts mainly for originators rather than generics.
As well as IP, it will have notable practices in project finance, real estate, mining, oil and gas and M&A work.
Gowlings was founded in 1875, while Wragge’s predecessor firms can trace their origins back as far as 1730. Today, both firms have about 700 legal professionals.
At Managing IP’s 2015 North America Awards, Gowlings won trophies for patent prosecution and trade mark prosecution. Wragge won in the UK – patent contentious work category at the Global Awards 2014.