Startup IP

with Jack Russo

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Early career in computer IP

Jack Russo

Startup Attorney, IP Pioneer, Entrepreneur Advocate

Lessons Learned

A degree in computer science is a big asset when understanding tech IP.

Congress began debating copyright of computer software in 1970s.

Nimmer on Copyright was published in 1978.


Lesson; Startup IP with Jack Russo

Step #8 Perspective: Early career in computer IP

I grew up in a working-class family in New York. My dad was an entrepreneur. His dad was an entrepreneur. I'm sure my great-grandfather was an entrepreneur. But what they did was very basic stuff. My dad owned a grocery store, small supermarket, in Brooklyn, NY. We all worked at it. My grandmother worked at it. My grandfather worked at it. His father, my grandfather, was in the fruit and vegetable business, came to the United States from Italy, stayed here, and had a family here.

So we grew up with the working class. At age 6, two other siblings, the 3 of us working in my dad's store. We learned early what it meant to price product, to make profit, to have customer service orientation. Anyway, a funny version of the story is that as I grew up and got older and was getting done with high school and I went to a very excellent, exceptional all-boys private high school, the only money my parents ever spent. All of these ethics of hard work and diligence and so on continued, and then as I was graduating my dad said to me, "This has been a family business. Are you ready to take it over because I'm getting older?" I mean, he wasn't that old, but he was thinking, "I should really ask whether he wants it,” and I said "Dad, I've got much bigger ambitions." He said, "Well, what? What's on your mind?"

At the time I had a very strange and very romantic dream that I was going to own this gigantic trucking company, and was going to be managing all of these logistics nationwide. I was one of the youngest people to get a Class 1 tractor-trailer operator license in the state of New York. It’s sort of a funny side story. But I didn't want to be stationary. I didn't want to be running my dad's business, which was his father's business, so I told him politely, "No, I really have bigger ambitions," and he said "Well, what's that?" "I expect to go to college, but I'm going to be thinking of starting my own business, and eventually I'm going to move to the West Coast."

The short and long of it is, I went to college, then was convinced by a university professor, Richard Styskill SP, he's probably still at CUNY University, that my grades were great and I should definitely go to law school, because I had gotten great scores on a number of exams. Then that net is, I came out to UCLA and was lucky enough to come out to UCLA in the 1970s, just as Congress was debating copyright protection of computer software. I had received a degree in Computer Science from CUNY University, so I was sort of primed to sort of help him. His name is Mel Nimmer, he's now deceased, but he has a very famous treatise called "Nimmer on Copyright". His son has actually taken it over. It's now "Nimmer and Nimmer on Copyright.”

And he said, "Stay,” because I was thinking maybe law school was not for me. He said "Stay. You're such a great addition. You can help me with my treatise and help me understand this computer stuff." So I graduated with a law degree, came up here to Silicon Valley and interviewed, also went back to New York and interviewed, and decided I liked the culture here in Silicon Valley. I was lucky enough to meet a number of people who were former New Yorkers who had started a firm that's now known as Fenwick and West. I joined, I think I was lawyer number 12. It was called Davis, Stafford, Kellman and Fenwick. They had started Apple Computer.

I stayed for almost six years, became a partner there, and then upon saying I really don't know that I want to stay. I’m going to start my own firm, and then went off and started a firm called Law Offices of Jack Russo literally out of my garage in College Terrace, Palo Alto.

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