In Memoriam Raymond P. Niro Sr.
Last week my heart turned over, after news from Italy. For me as for many others who knew Ray Niro, worked both with him and adverse to him, the week since has been one of reflection tinged with sadness.
Today I attended the service for Ray, to honor a man I deeply admired, learned from, and over the years came to know as a dear friend. It is a hard loss.
Ray Niro was an icon in patent law and patent litigation. He was a mentor to me and a role model for many. His approach and achievements were easy to admire, hard to emulate. Professionally, there was no tougher adversary in the courtroom; Ray also was an innovator in our field, and one of the most successful of us. And he was warm, generous, larger-than-life, an inspiration.
Ray probably won more in jury verdicts than any other patent lawyer ever. He created a new business model for firms engaged in patent litigation, one that distinctly favored the needs of the small inventor. The Niro Firm offered recourse to small inventors who could not afford expensive and lengthy patent litigation under the common hourly-rate model. He empowered inventors who believed their inventions, their life’s work, their passion was being stolen by a predatory business.
To fight for these inventors took courage and heart. Ray and the firm provided an important service to the little guy, a service all but gone in today’s environment. By taking on enough cases to balance the less successful ones—inevitably the majority—with those few that ended with gold at the end of the rainbow, Ray built one of the most successful patent litigation firms. Pioneering contingency fees in the patent space, he developed a model almost impossible to replicate. And we tried.
Passion and toughness defined Ray and led to his success. For that quality, many misunderstood him. To improve its odds, the Niro firm litigated differently than most patent lawyers did in the latter half of the 20th century. The scorched-earth approach to litigation that was in vogue simply cost too much when the client wasn’t paying.
Instead, Ray went after what mattered: claim construction, defeating summary judgment, winning at trial. Going on a proverbial wild goose chase for the non-existent smoking gun wasn’t part of the mix. If a defendant wanted to settle along the way, there was time to discuss that. But the Niro firm’s success came from a different business model than most of us did or could sustain.
I’ll remember Ray as a great man, a terrific lawyer, and a warm-hearted friend. Regardless of what others have said publicly about patent litigation and the need for reform, it was Ray who prior to passage of the America Invents Act recognized the damage to our patent laws that was to come. He was one of the first to speak out openly against proposed changes that minimized rights of smaller inventors and benefited bigger business—especially the technology goliaths who were pushing for the so-called “reforms”—and still are.
Many others in our profession spoke out later, but not until the pendulum had swung far, far away from center. Ray was one of the first: he led the charge and read the charges.
First. That’s a word that sums up Ray’s achievement. An innovator himself, he broke ground, won battles his own way, built success, and won friends and admirers as a result.
As I said, a mentor and my friend. I will sorely miss hearing from Ray about his escapades at trial; I will miss his guidance during those many times when I faced key decisions in my own career.
Thank you, Ray Niro. You are deeply missed.