Career Spotlight: Leslie Lott
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 They didn’t. Instead, they took the balls, originally made by a slew of different manufacturers, and stamped them with the name “Titleist,” one of the best-selling brands in the world.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 (pictured above) 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.’ And 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 tried to call it their own, and 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 product 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, 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.”
Editor’s note: To read more about Leslie Lott, check out the rest of the story on page 20 of the latest issue of UF Law, available online at http://www.law.ufl.edu/news/pdf/magazine_winter08.pdf.