Immersed in IP After his start as a prosecutor, Dan Collopy ’81L found his way into intellectual property law, and a career in Asia.
From prosecuting murder trials in Southwest Virginia to executing a $6 billion deal to sell Motorola’s Asia facilities to training U.S. Customs agents to spot counterfeit pagers, Dan Collopy’s legal career has been anything but dull.
Take, for instance, that time someone broke into his family’s Abingdon, Virginia, home and burned it to the ground, leaving Collopy’s wife tied up on the back porch. He’d been a prosecuting attorney for about 4 ½ years by then and was assisting a federal investigation into an arson-for-hire case at the time.
Two days later Collopy ’81L got a call from an Atlanta firm where he’d interviewed for an IP job five years earlier. Would he still be interested, they asked. Definitely, he said.
Collopy was already interested in intellectual property when he arrived at the W&L Law School in 1978. When one law school asked him to write an essay predicting what he thought he’d be doing in five years, he wrote that he would be working in Asia for an electronics company as an IP attorney.
“When I happened to find that essay in some old papers ten years later, I was working in Singapore for Motorola as an IP attorney,” he says. “It took 10 years, but I’d gotten there.”
Collopy didn’t find an IP job after graduation and took a detour into criminal law, believing that experience in a trial setting would always be helpful. He’d had criminal law with the late Roger Groot and credits the course as pivotal to his career — “not only the criminal law but the way of thinking behind that, particularly the criminal procedure.”
As an assistant commonwealth attorney in Wise and Washington counties, Collopy prosecuted everything from murder to arson. He was first chair on 280 felony jury trials and handled 2,000 misdemeanor cases, 85 bankruptcy and administrative hearings, and 50 appeals and petititons to federal and Virginia courts.
“My specialties were paper crimes because I liked putting the puzzle together in front of the jury,” he said. It turned out I was good at crimes against children because I could talk with children pretty well. That got to be too much after a while because I was trying case after case of child abuse.”
When Collopy made the move from criminal law to IP by joining Jones & Askew in Atlanta, he was put right back into litigation. The difference was stark.
“I discovered IP litigation was not as much fun as criminal litigation,” he said. “In criminal litigation, you walk in and maybe have studied the case for half an hour or maybe half a day. In IP litigation, it’s probably 6 to 10 years until you get to the courtroom.”
In 1989, Collopy took an in-house position with Motorola. He started with the Paging Products Group, writing patents and doing agreements. He’d been there five years when he was asked to join the company’s Singapore office. It was not his first time in Asia and wouldn’t be his last.
After graduating from Thomas More University in Kentucky with a double major in physics and drama, Collopy had spent two years in Osaka and Kyota, Japan, before entering W&L. He’d been a tour guide for a group of Japanese students who were visiting Kentucky. The teacher who was the group’s chaperone invited Collopy to Japan, and he accepted. He taught English as a Second Language in a night school for a time and then became an instructor in English and a lecturer in Western Theatre at a women’s college.
Collopy’s background in drama came in handy at W&L, too. He filled in for an undergraduate professor on leave from the W&L theatre department for a semester. His specialty was the technical side of theatre, and he also was the technical director for Lexington’s Henry Street Playhouse during its 1980 summer season in W&L’s old Troubadour Theatre.
“My main job at Henry Street was designing and running lights,” he says. “But they did get me on stage for our production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” that summer.”
During his first stint in Singapore with Motorola, Collopy was engaged in lobbying and negotiating cellular and paging standards with governments in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China. Counterfeit pagers had been proliferating, and he led anti-counterfeiting raids in Malaysia and worked with the Chinese government on the problem, too.
“We went into Thailand, but it was difficult there because you would present the subpoena at the local police station, and they’d send one of their guys to warn the people we were coming. We were never able to catch anybody in Thailand,” says Collopy, who also trained U.S. Customs agents to spot counterfeit Motorola products.
Collopy also spent time in India on patent protection issues and trademark violations, including the case of an automotive company that was using the Motorola symbol and trademark to market itself as Motoroil.
After assignments in Florida, Singapore and Phoenix, he landed with the burgeoning cellular division in Chicago, which is the setting for a story Collopy gleefully tells on himself. Motorola’s introduction of flip phones in 1996 was revolutionary, and as the company looked to expand its product line in subsequent years, Collopy and colleagues in the cellular division routinely met with inventors pitching new products.
“Flip phones were smaller than anything we’d had before, but I remember how this one guy brought in a fairly large phone with a screen on it. He said he wanted to address the teenage market. This was 1999, and cell phones were used primarily for business,” Collopy says. “He said the screen let you take a picture of the person on the other end of the line, which was something he thought would appeal to the teenage market.
“He turned to me and asked whether he could get a patent on the camera that he’d put in his phone. And I said, ‘Yes, you could get a patent on it, but who would ever want a camera in a phone?’ Looking back now, it wasn’t my fault Motorola imploded. But…”
After Motorola, Collopy went to Silicon Valley with the semiconductor company Advanced Micro Devices. When his wife became ill, they moved to Atlanta in order to be closer to grandchildren, and Collopy worked remotely as vice president of Ingrassia, Fisher & Lorenz, a Phoenix, Arizona, firm that specializes in IP.
On one of his quarterly trips to the Arizona headquarters, Collopy had a chance encounter on the airport rental car bus with a former colleague whom he had trained in IP when they were both in Singapore with Motorola.
“We spent all night at Denny’s catching up. He was head of the IP group in a government research institution in Singapore,” said Collopy. “About a year later when my wife passed away, he contacted me to ask if I wanted to join him.”
That was in 2010. Collopy returned to Singapore and has been there since. He’s held numerous positions in IP over the last decade. He is currently a principal with the Australian-based IP firm, Spruson & Ferguson. He drafts and files patents in Mongolia, Nepal, and Laos, among others. In addition, he has significant teaching and training responsibilities with the IP Academy Singapore and Singapore University of Social Sciences. He’s also a regular at workshops held by the World Intellectual Property Organization and has lectured throughout the world.
Collopy has spent nearly 35 years immersed in IP law and has been an eyewitness to a remarkable shift in perception about the field.
“Back in the ‘’90s, I’d talk with people, CEOs and GMs who were supposed to be making the decisions, and they’d say, ‘Well, what does IP stand for?’ They just didn’t know how to use those intangible assets,” he says. “By the later aughts, people were beginning to realize you could extra a lot of value of these IP assets.”
Collopy was clearly onto something when he first set his sights on a career in IP.
“I think W&L had only one IP course at W&L, and it was trademarks with Sally Wiant,” Collopy said. “But all my courses — property law, criminal law, labor law — got me started, and I’m grateful.”