Brandon Villery, 29, a four-year associate at Morrison & Foerster, uses an impressive collection of legal resources, but it’s got nothing to do with the Code of Civil Procedure.
It’s also a bit more interesting: Playstation, X-Box and Game Boy Advance, otherwise known as video games.
One recent afternoon, Villery gathered in the conference room of the San Francisco firm’s 28th-floor office with a handful of other lawyers to examine the latest prototype of an interactive video game produced by a top client.
The gaming session is not exactly work, but it is useful.
“There are many thorny issues when representing video game companies,” Villery said. “Having a good understanding [of the industry and their products] really helps. It takes away hours of explanations from the clients.”
Being on top of developments in the video game industry is a priority for Morrison & Foerster. The firm recently formalized a 25-lawyer video game practice in response to its ever-increasing business with the video game industry.
While many firms have ventured into the field and litigated big cases in the industry, Morrison is among the first to have a formal video game practice area within the firm. However, other firms may soon follow suit.
“As the video game industry becomes more important, we realized [the practice] was a natural step to better serve our clients,” said Morrison partner William Schwartz. “It’s a reflection of the amount of business we’ve been doing within the industry.”
Schwartz said the firm’s focus in the entertainment and technological fields and its office locations in California, Japan, Korea and the United Kingdom — where most of the video game companies are located — have given them an edge in the industry.
The firm currently represents two dozen video game companies, including Atari Corp., Disney Interactive and Sega Corp., as well as video game publishers, content owners and technological companies.
The industry’s $7 billion in 2003 sales has created more opportunities for law firms to expand their services into the field, where key legal issues include copyright and content ownership.
Video game law has come a long way in the last 20 years. Until a 1983 ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Apple Computer Inc. v. Franklin Computer Corp., 714 F.2d 1240, it was not clear if computer software copyright could be protected.