Five minutes with…Tim Chen Saulsbury, Morrison Foerster
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Five minutes with…Tim Chen Saulsbury, Morrison Foerster

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Tim Chen Saulsbury explains why single-craft artisans inspire him and how, even at home, he’s never too far from another IP lawyer

Welcome to the latest instalment of Managing IP’s ‘Five minutes with’ series, where we learn more about IP practitioners on a personal as well as a professional level. This time we have Tim Chen Saulsbury, partner at Morrison Foerster in California.

Someone asks you at a party what you do for a living. What do you say?

It’s highly dependent on the audience. Because my partner is an IP litigator too, and we live in the Bay Area, I often find myself at parties with other lawyers and their technology company spouses.

If I’m asked the question by an engineer, I might say I litigate technology and software cases but if I’m asked by another litigator, I might specify that I try patent and trade secrets cases.

Talk us through a typical working day

Outside of trial, there’s not a typical working day and that variety is one of the things I love most about the job. I suppose one commonality is lots of meetings — that’s certainly what my toddlers would say their parents’ work is.

What are you working on at the moment?

The most meaty matters currently on my plate are:

1) Defending a patent infringement case for Epic Games involving the game ‘Fortnite ;

2) Defending on appeal a summary judgment win in a medical device trade secrets case;

3) Patent litigation involving the USB technology that powers Apple's CarPlay, in which both parties are asserting patents;

4) Another litigation involving e-commerce technology.

We also recently filed a Federal Tort Claims Act suit against US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the wrongful detention of our pro bono client.

The eight-month detention destroyed the life she spent decades building. Unable to speak with her clients and unable to make payments, she lost the business she had spent years building, her housing, her car, her credit, and much more. ICE’s failure to validate status, sadly, is a much broader problem, and our client is hopeful that her case might bring about policy changes that could help others.

Does one big piece of work usually take priority or are you juggling multiple things?

Basically always juggling – but again, I view that variety as a feature, not a bug.

 What is the most exciting aspect of your role and what is the most stressful?

For me, the most exciting part of the job, in the adrenaline sense of excitement, is trial crosses, followed by depositions of challenging witnesses.

The most stressful aspect of the job stems from the urge to make sure I’m doing enough to support my clients and colleagues. There’s a strong sense of duty around that which I credit my mentors for and which promotes strong, healthy working relationships.

Tell us the key characteristics that make a successful IP lawyer/practitioner

I think that there are many distinct ways to be successful, but some traits I see often in the most successful people are:

1) A strong desire to perfect one’s craft.

2) Being a good human. In litigation at least, a lot of the job requires persuading people to do what you need them to do. Over the medium-to long-run, good humans tend to be better at accomplishing that.

What is the most common misconception about IP?

People often think the work requires a technical background. While a technical background certainly can be helpful, what I’ve found to be a much stronger predictor of success is whether the person has the confidence to dig into completely foreign, highly technical subject matter and a strong aversion to understanding things only superficially.

That drive to understand things at a fundamental level provides a huge edge in virtually every stage of litigation and is far more important in my view than what you studied in college.

 What or who inspires you?

Single-craft artisans: the 85-year-old chef who has spent his entire life making nothing but grilled eel (unadon) and strives every day to improve his craft while believing firmly that perfection is unobtainable is incredibly inspiring.

I’m also routinely inspired by my colleagues, especially the more junior ones. When I see them totally rock a witness exam or a hearing, and the pleasure they take in doing the job well, it inspires me to work harder, and to try to create more opportunities for them.

 If you weren’t in IP, what would you be doing?

If this is about what I might have done had I not gone to law school, development economist, or trauma surgeon.

If it’s about life after the law, I could see myself getting into the aquaculture business because I’m fascinated by how we can deploy technology to promote more sustainable production of healthy food. It might be that we’re on to cell cultured proteins by then, though I’m not sure I’d count on it.

Any advice you would give your younger self?

Eat less meat. I certainly didn’t appreciate then what we understand now about the environmental, health, and broader moral consequences.

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