By James Hellegaard
As criminal operations go, this one was significant. The idea was simple enough. Dredge the ponds at golf shooting ranges, run the algae-covered balls through an acid wash, re-varnish them, and sell them back to golf courses as practice balls.
If only the people running the operation out of the back of a sports shop in a strip mall in west Broward County had stopped there. They didn’t. Instead, they took the balls, originally made by a slew of different manufacturers, and stamped them with the name “Titleist,” one of the best-selling brands in the world. Simply put, that’s stealing.
That’s where Leslie Lott comes in. A 1974 graduate of the University of Florida Levin College of Law, Lott is one of the top intellectual property lawyers in Florida. When law enforcement raided the counterfeit golf ball operation, Lott was there, along with a representative from her client, Acushnet, the manufacturer of golf-related products, including Titleist® golf balls.
“I’ll never forget the client representative from Acushnet who was down here with us when we conducted the raid on the operation,” Lott recalls. “There were all these drying racks with stacks of trays full of golf balls lined up in them, still damp, with the varnish drying on them, and the varnish was pooling in the dimples. And he was a tall man walking around with his hands up in the air yelling, ‘These golf balls have been aerodynamically devastated.’ He was so passionate about his company, and he was so furious.”
Such emotion is common when someone’s intellectual property has been stolen. Lott has seen many clients come into her office at Lott & Friedland in Coral Gables. They’re angry, indignant that someone is taking something they created and trying to call it their own, stealing property that is rightfully theirs.
A big part of IP law and an area that gets a lot of attention is counterfeiting, the illegal activity that was taking place at the golf ball operation. Busting such operations can be dangerous. Oftentimes, counterfeiters are turned in by the competition—people who sell products legitimately, says Lott, whose clients have included Mont Blanc® pens, Singer® sewing machines, Cartier® watches and Reebok® athletic shoes.
“Usually you find counterfeits through local distributors or local licensees who tell you they’ve seen counterfeits at this store or this flea market, or they’ll come back and say, ‘Wait a minute, how can Joe Schmo sell the same product I’m selling for half the price? Are you giving him a better price?’” Lott explains. “And that also will alert the manufacturer.”
Private investigators then move in to help build a case, to literally track down the source, make a buy and obtain the goods. The product then goes back to the company, which determines whether it’s original and authentic or a counterfeit. Attorneys then take the counterfeit into court, lay out the information before a judge, who authorizes a seizure order to allow for the raid of the operation, usually with federal marshalls, and seizure of the counterfeit goods, a paperwork and other documentation.
Things don’t always go smoothly, of course. Lott has avoided peril so far, but she’s heard plenty of stories of others who haven’t been so fortunate, including an attorney in New York who was stabbed in a counterfeit raid (he recovered), and another who broke an arm when she was knocked down a flight of stairs by counterfeiters dashing down a back stairway, seeking to escape a raid in New York’s Chinatown, one of the most notorious areas in the country for selling counterfeit goods.
“You’re dealing with criminal activity by definition, and you’re interfering with people’s livelihood,” Lott says. “And it can be dangerous.”
As Lott and those who know will tell you, though, there’s nothing else she would rather be doing. Circuit Judge Martha Lott (JD 81) of Gainesville remembers her older sister being “committed to going to law school since she was in elementary school” and showing off her legal skills at an early age.
“She drafted her first contract when we were gosh, less than 10 years old,” Martha Lott recalls of their time growing up in Perry.
Lott’s father, Russell, still has a contract Leslie wrote around that same time. The contract was made with her two younger sisters, Martha, and Sarah, a businesswoman who lives in Portland. The girls had traded bedrooms, and the contract laid out the terms of the trade:
“The term was for one week—it provided for a trade back on Sunday—unless I hit Martha, in which case she could demand a trade back at any time, or unless both parties agreed,” Leslie explains.
“We each had to clean the room we occupied and could not trade back a room that was not clean. If the rooms were not clean at the end of the contract term, the parties remained in the rooms they then occupied for an additional two days in order to clean both rooms before trading back. A 10-cent fine was imposed on anyone who wore her sister’s clothes without permission.”
“Practicing law without a license, I think we’d call that now,” notes Martha.
Russell Lott was a mechanical engineer for Proctor & Gamble, and his wife, Allene, was a housewife with a degree in chemistry. Martha remembers being baffled at the apparent fun Leslie would have “arguing like a lawyer” with their father at a very young age. She compares it to watching a kid playing chess. Leslie was always “very rational, very modulated”—qualities you wouldn’t expect in a little girl. The intellectual challenge of the debate prepared her sister well for a career in law.
“She’s very similar to my father,” says Martha Lott. “They both love to logically argue points, and obviously she gained skill starting awfully young. That’s not normal recreation for an 8- or 9-year-old.”
FORMAL TRAINING BEGINS
Leslie Lott left Perry for Gainesville to attend the University of Florida, where she was president of Panhellenic Council, attorney general of the Honor Court and part of the first class of women ever admitted to Florida Blue Key, UF’s leadership honorary. Following graduation from UF Law, Lott decided she wanted to work in Washington, D.C., and landed a job with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
“It was really just a fluke,” Lott says of that first job, which would lead her on the path to a career in intellectual property law. After two years, Lott joined the venerable New York law firm of Pennie & Edmonds, where Leslie was one of the only woman lawyers. That wasn’t surprising in the early 1970s, the tipping point for women moving into the law. When she entered UF Law in 1972, Lott was one of a handful of women in law school. By the time she graduated, women comprised about one-third of the entering law school classes.
While her mentors along the way were men who were always supportive of her, Lott recalls one client at Pennie & Edmonds who tried to give her a bit of a compliment as they left court one day.
“You know, I don’t mind one bit having a woman lawyer,” Lott recalls him saying. “I always hire women in my business. I learned a long time ago they work twice as hard as men and you don’t have to pay ’em as much.”
Lott laughs at the memory. “He was really proud of himself. It’s funny, I didn’t find it offensive at all. I thought it was kind of cute,” she says. “He thought that was his enlightened view. Now listen, I’ll take it any way I can get it, you know.”
Lott’s husband, Michael Moore (JD 74), recalls how Leslie made an impression on her male colleagues in the firm. The men were gathered around trying to figure out a new puzzle known as Rubik’s Cube when Leslie stepped up to give it a try.
“She looked at this thing in front of these five male lawyers, and she took the cube and made a couple of quick turns and solved the puzzle,” says Moore. “It was one of those moments when the guys realized she would be one of the team.”
In 1980 Lott and Moore moved back to Florida. A few years later, Lott saw an opportunity. As far as Lott or Moore knew, there were only two lawyers at the time specializing in intellectual property law in South Florida. Lott launched her firm from the couple’s home.
“I remember discussing with her that she should follow her dreams,” says Moore, who started his own marine and aviation law firm, Moore & Co., after many years at Holland & Knight. “She literally started the firm from scratch. She had no associates, no office. She just started putting out the word, and then she started practicing and letting friends and family know, ‘this is what I’m going to do.’”
Still, starting her own firm, Lott says, was kind of frightening.
“What if you give a party and nobody comes? It was that kind of a feeling,” she says from her office overlooking Coral Gables. “But things went really well.”
David Friedland (JD 88), who clerked for Lott when he was in law school, joined the firm after practicing law in Atlanta and is now the firm’s senior patent counsel. Lott & Friedland, with offices in Coral Gables and Fort Lauderdale, now has five partners, six associates and six paralegals. The firm will celebrate its 25th anniversary this May.
In retrospect, Lott couldn’t have chosen a better area of law in which to practice. As technology has developed and grown over the last quarter century, including the explosion of the Internet, intellectual property law has followed right along with it, bringing increasing business for both the patent practice and technology practice.
“Because it’s now so easy to set up a business on the Internet, people who at one time might have had a brick-and-mortar business in one location, all of a sudden are on the Internet and that one little shop is intergalactic for all we know,” Lott says.
“So there’s a lot more potential for conflicts. Every step of the way, technology has given rise to increasingly more intellectual property issues.”
Lott, whose own practice focuses on trademark litigation, has watched as the law continues to try to keep pace with technology. With the globalization of the economy and the ease with which goods go from one country to another, stemming the tide of counterfeiting can seem an impossible task. Manufacturers of American and European products outsource to Asian countries where the makers will make an over-supply of products from Louis Vuitton® bags to Gloria Vanderbilt® jeans.
Luxury goods are one thing, Lott says, but a far greater danger comes with the manufacture and sale of counterfeit medicines, airplane parts, car tires—products that by their poor quality are actually life-threatening.
“Now they’re finding some links to counterfeiting rings and counterfeiting operations funding international crimes and international terrorists,” she explains. “These people are criminals and they’re involved in criminal activity. So it’s not to be taken lightly.”
Today, decades after she drew up that first contract with her sister and honed her arguing skills with her father, Lott finds some of her greatest satisfaction in helping to resolve disputes. She is a member of the Panel of Distinguished Neutrals for the Resolution of Trademark Disputes, established by the International Trademark Association, and has participated in a number of mediation conferences in connection with ongoing efforts to provide cost-effective alternatives to litigation.
“If you can help people get to a resolution that saves them money, saves them time, saves them the resources of their company, and gets them to where they can shake hands and part friends more or less, it’s so satisfying to be able to resolve things that way,” Lott says.
While the law continues to fascinate her, Lott says the most enjoyable part of her job is working with the creative people she has for clients.
“Being able to work with people who are creating books, creating music, creating software, creating works of art, creating companies, creating businesses—I just love being around people who are making things happen,” she says. “Our client base is a very exciting, interesting, dynamic group of people, and I love working with them and trying to help them protect what they’ve created.”