Looking back, Keith Askoff, vice president and associate general counsel for intellectual property at Varian Medical Systems Inc., said he’s not sure how he survived the last couple of years.
In addition to continuing to oversee his company’s IP procurement and to provide legal counsel to its executives, Askoff was put in charge of the IP aspect of a Board-approved spinoff of Varian’s components business. As if that weren’t enough, though, he also managed infringement litigation that spanned about half a dozen jurisdictions, in the U.S. and abroad, and culminated with a walkaway settlement in the two-year patent battle initiated by Varian’s rival Elekta (litigation that landed Varian another award from The Recorder this year).
At the heart of the Elekta litigation was a high-stakes case before the International Trade Commission involving Varian patents in radiotherapy systems that are used in about 60 to 70 percent of all cancer treatments, Askoff said. He worked closely with litigators at Cooley, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and Beck, Bismonte & Finley to help land a pivotal victory—an administrative law judge’s finding that certain radiotherapy Elekta devices infringed on three patents owned by Varian.
And when litigation revolves around technologies with names like Multi-Mode Cone Beam CT Radiotherapy Simulator and Treatment Machine With a Flat Panel Imager, even Askoff acknowledges that there’s an added degree of difficulty associated with the proceedings.
“You can’t change the law, and you can’t change the facts, but you do have to figure out how to make it understandable,” Askoff said, adding that the expert witnesses the company called did an excellent job explaining the technicalities of the inventions. “That’s where lawyers’ roles really come in.”
“We did a good job strategizing and presenting, but our innovations are phenomenal. The heft of these inventions is what carried the day,” he added.
Beyond reviewing materials and examining strategy and direction, Askoff said a lot of his responsibilities involved logistical matters such as choosing witnesses and preparing them for trial testimony.
“There was a whole organizational aspect of the litigation that was very extensive,” he said.
In discussing his relationship with his outside lawyers, Askoff described frequent meetings, very cooperative strategizing and an open dialogue.
“I definitely want to hear the firm’s advice because when you’re in-house, you can become emotionally invested in these things,” he said. “What’s great about developing a relationship with outside counsel is that if I feel really strongly about something, they’re comfortable pressing their point or pushing back on me.
“If you take too much of the view of, ‘Hey, I’m the client, I’m in charge,’ you’re not taking advantage of your outside counsel. If, at the end of the day, I can’t convince them, I go with their advice—that’s why I hired them,” he explained.