Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer – UK 2023
The well-positioned London patent litigation team of this international full-service law firm has a good reputation in the UK market for pharma and biotech cases on the side of companies that research and develop drugs. It is demonstrating this in impressive fashion through its preparation of the European suits for Moderna against BioNTech over mRNA patents, which were coordinated in cooperation with the Dutch Freshfields team. The London partners are also conducting the UK proceedings.
As the UK team is still small with many recent changes at associate and counsel level to cope with, it is still not as visible in London as market leaders Bristows and Powell Gilbert. This also means that the team led by senior partner Christopher Stothers and up-and-coming junior partner Laura Whiting is underestimated by some competitors – which could well be a mistake. After all, the European practice’s ability to land top-flight clients such as Meta, Novartis and Continental has impressed in recent years. And the London team is by no means a mere outpost of the preeminent continental European practice: it plays a central role these days, demonstrated through its involvement in acquiring Moderna as a client along with the Dutch team.
AstraZeneca is another high-profile originator from the pharma sector that kept the UK team extremely busy with several cases. The company is first and foremost a client of the UK team, which in some cases brings in other Freshfields teams as well.
The European team’s very strong position with Apple should also not be forgotten. Neither the continental European team nor the UK team were involved in the mega-dispute against Ericsson over the extension of the global licensing agreement for mobile communications standards, however, because of the firm’s existing connections to Ericsson. A courtroom appearance for the iPhone manufacturer would no doubt give the London team the visibility it needs to join the group of firms challenging the market leaders. But it has strong competition here in the shape of WilmerHale and Kirkland & Ellis, especially because things remain much quieter for the Freshfields team in the high-tech sector than in life sciences. Meta and Facebook are the highest profile clients in this segment at present, where Freshfields is also coordinating the case against Voxer Europe-wide while handling parallel litigation in Germany.
Patent disputes regarding life science patents, including strategic and commercial advice.
The European patent team has a wealth of experience handling simultaneous cases in the UK and on the continent, including EPO proceedings. In impressive fashion, it is developing major instructions such as those for AstraZeneca, Apple, Continental and not least for Moderna across national borders – although not all offices are always involved in each case.
The full-service firm is particularly strong on the European continent, with patent teams in Amsterdam, Düsseldorf and Munich the mainstays of this well-integrated practice. The London team quickly developed into an important pillar, as demonstrated by the London and Amsterdam teams’ joint acquisition of the work for Moderna.
With this setup, the European Freshfields teams are shaping up to really challenge Bird & Bird, Hogan Lovells and Hoyng ROKH Monegier and should not be underestimated by the European market leaders. Because apart from the enormous Freshfields network, the team’s ability to advance new talent time and again is perhaps its most important strength. In Amsterdam, Düsseldorf, Munich and London, there is a hard-hitting and closely interwoven generation of young partners ready and waiting behind the visible senior partners. They are already demonstrating an impressive presence in cross-border cases for Apple and Novartis. Laura Whiting is one of these young litigators, who has much experience coordinating such cases and knowledge of the legal systems in other European jurisdictions. This experience could be an advantage in UPC cases.
The close ties between the German, Dutch and UK teams should not, however, overshadow the fact that Freshfields forgoes patent experts in Paris. For a long time, the patent team preferred to cooperate with the general dispute resolution team instead. While this strategy may have been in line with the firm’s general litigation focus, the patent team has now learned that this might limit it as regards cross-border disputes and the UPC. Freshfields could consider a lateral hire in Paris, should a suitable candidate meet the firm’s quality standards and revenue expectations. Furthermore, because of the strong client base in the life sciences sector, the weak presence in Milan as a potentially important UPC location could prove to be a disadvantage.
Christopher Stothers, Laura Whiting
Full-service in IP with a strong focus on patent disputes. Also soft IP, trade secrets advice and transactions.
Litigation: Moderna (defendent) against BioNTech over mRNA patents; AstraZeneca (claimant) against Tesaro/GSK in royalty dispute over PARO inhibitors for cancer treatments; Facebook/Meta (defendant) against Voxer over telecommunications patents (ended 2022); frequent work for MSD. Advice: Continental regarding complaint against Nokia before the EU Commission on abuse of use of its SEPs; US mobile device manufacturer regarding SEPs (public knowledge); AstraZeneca over acquisition of Alexion Pharmaceuticals; Corda regarding sale of performance technologies and chemical business to Cargill.