Intellectual Property Specialists Zies, Widerman & Malek

Walking into a law office can be rather intimidating.  The environment feels stuffy and that smell in the air … is it the scent of the vapor trail of billable hours from the client who just left?

Well, that’s certainly not the feeling one gets upon entering the law offices of Zies, Widerman & Malek in Melbourne.  Philip Zies, Scott Widerman and Mark Malek are longtime friends who have created a relaxed atmosphere where there is fun to be had, but not at the expense of doing everything possible for their clients,

“We’re a real family-oriented, family-based group,” Malek said.  “We put a lot of emphasis on that, in the way that we operate.  I think that’s why we get along so great.  If you can work with your friends and make it work, you’re doing great.  That’s a major part of what we have going on here.”

Securing and Enforcing

Established in 2003, the law firm specializes in intellectual property and technology law – either securing protection or enforcing it – and commercial litigation.  It also handles real estate law and has represented both banks and homeowners in handling foreclosure cases.

There are now six attorneys in the Melbourne office, following the recent addition of Mark Warzecha, a trademark specialist from Indiana, plus one located in their Alexandria, Va. office, which is situated just across the street from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Over the last few years, with the economy continuing to struggle, Malek said the firm has seen a spike in cases involving intellectual property.  People who have been laid off decide they want to finally chase that venture they’ve been dreaming about and want protection for their new product.

“The fortunate part is it can be good in that more technology is coming out, and it’s especially great for Brevard County because we’re seeing a lot of it come out of here,” Malek said.  “The downside is some less creative folks who are out of a job may choose to infringe and that spurs a lot of litigation.”

One common misconception Zies points out is, “Most people think, erroneously, if I get a patent, the next day a big dump truck is going to back into my driveway, raise the bed into my garage and just pour out money.  Probably so much money I won’t even be able to close my garage so I’ll need to hire armed guards to stand in front of my garage to keep people from getting it.  That’s why I need to get a patent.

“What they don’t understand is that obtaining the patent is only the beginning of spending the money to try to get some revenue as a result of their invention.  Those are the kinds of misconceptions we try to dispel when we meet with clients.”

More Than a Legal Impact

What helps set Zies Widerman & Malek apart is the firm’s integrity and its devotion to the Brevard community.  Zies, 42, is on the Board of Directors for the Brevard Symphony Orchestra and is one of the directors of the Brevard County Bar Association. Widerman, 39, is on the board of the March of Dimes.  Malek, 37, whose oldest son has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, supports the Space Coast Early Intervention Center, the Scott Center for Autism Treatment at Florida Tech and has also served on the board of Junior Achievement.

The firm is also dedicated to doing whatever it can to help support Brevard County veterans groups.

“We all give as much time as we can to the community, and we encourage our associates and staff to do it too,” Malek said.  “It’s definitely a community-based firm.  Any company doing business in Brevard County . . . you’ve got to give back as much as you can.”

Staying In Focus & On Target

In a day when the idea that the customer comes first seems to have gone by the wayside, the firm also puts its clients’ interests at heart, even if it means they have to refer them somewhere else or simply tell them they don’t have a case.

“What we pride ourselves on is we don’t try to practice law in an area that we don’t know, and in tough economic times, there may be people out there that take whatever business is walking in the door.  That’s a disservice to the client.  This firm … we know what we don’t know.  We’re very focused on our areas of practice.”

Not only do the lawyers educate themselves to stay up to date on the latest court cases and news events – as property law and state litigation practice can change almost on a daily basis – but the firm also maintains its own blog, tacticalip.com, where it posts stories on new intellectual property-related issues.

Perhaps one reason the firm is so passionate about intellectual property is that both Philip Zies and Scott Widerman have patents of their own.  In fact, Mark Malek wrote the patent for Zies.

Functioning Like Friends

The family atmosphere comes from the friendships the trio has built up over time. Malek and Widerman have known each other since they both attended law school at Barry University in Orlando.  Zies’ wife, Lynn, is the godmother of Malek’s oldest son.

On any given weekend, it’s not uncommon to find the three families spending time together.  The men love reciting their favorite movie quotes and Malek and Widerman have a special dollar that goes back and forth between them depending on whoever wins a bet on something silly (warning from Malek, do not engage Widerman in any kind of friendly wager on the golf course, or you will get burned)!

That kind of closeness permeates the firm, thus the relaxed feeling for anyone entering the building.

“Our friendships go back forever,” Malek said.  “I’m not going to sit here and lie and say there are never any partner issues that come up.  Of course two partners (can) disagree. But just the fact that you’re friends makes it so much easier to talk through that and figure it out from a business perspective.”

More from Zies, Widerman & Malek . . .

Misconceptions

There are a number of misconceptions involved when trying to get a patent for a new invention or for obtaining legal advice. Here are a few examples.

  • Just because you have a great idea doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t thought of it, too.
  • A lot of people don’t understand that just because they have never heard of the particular invention that they think they’ve invented doesn’t mean that someone else hasn’t invented it,” Zies explained.  “Mark got a patent for me on my invention, but it was the fifth or sixth invention of mine that I came to Mark saying, ‘Hey Mark, how about this?’”
  • The Internet is a great thing, but it’s not always the best place to find legal advice.  “More than once in my career, someone has come to me and said, ‘Well, it was OK that I copied that thing; I used the 10 percent rule,’” Malek said.  “I’ve never heard of the ‘10 percent rule.’  (The client says), ‘I read it on the Internet. You can copy someone’s copyrighted thing so long as you change it by 10 percent.’ … at which point I try to arrange a settlement for them.”

Activity

Estimates are the firm has 50-70 open litigation files and probably 30-50 with litigation activity each month.

They do foreclosure prosecution for several banks and homeowner defense as well.

They have current litigation in California, Texas, New York and Georgia.

According to Mark Malek, they filed between 50-70 patent applications last year, between 100-150 trademark applications and about the same number of copyright applications.

As for intellectual property related litigations, they disposed of a copyright software litigation when they won on summary judgment.  They also disposed of a domain name dispute case, which was settled in favor of their client right after filing the litigation. Another copyright dispute was resolved before litigation was filed and there is another copyright/trademark case that is still pending.  They have two other trademark cases that are in the settlement negotiation stage, but may wind up in litigation.

Staying on the Same page

While some offices avoid meetings at all costs, the three partners get together twice a week to discuss the firm’s business.  They also get out of town 2-3 times a year to spend the weekend business planning.

Business Trends

Malek said one of the biggest trends the firm has seen of late has to do with intellectual property infringement.  “Some of them are pretty blatant, and they’re right here in Brevard County,” he said.  “We are also handling cases around the country, but it’s been just an absolute spike in infringement.  We’ve also witnessed an interesting spike in work from foreign countries coming into the firm for intellectual property work.”