Dentons US LLP: Quality Service Comes with a Price, but it’s Worth it


From Dacheng’s office in Beijing, next to various central government authorities, one can enjoy a panoramic view of Beijing's vibrant landscape through the reception room's glass walls. It was in this setting that the China IP reporter sat down with Timothy C. Bickham, commonly known as Tim.

After two decades at Steptoe, Tim recently left his role as Managing Partner of the Beijing Office and made a significant career move to Dentons US LLP, taking up the position as the US Head for China IP Litigation. Discussing this transition, Tim expressed his attraction to Dentons due to their top-notch ITC litigation team and the expansive resources they offer in the region. While he acknowledged the market's questions stemming from the recent separation between Dentons and Dacheng, Tim expressed confidence in Dentons’ presence and development in the China market. He emphasized that Dentons and Dacheng would maintain their collaborative spirit as alliance partners, and highlighted Dentons' unwavering commitment to deepening its footprint in China, promising increased investments in the upcoming years.

Effective transcultural communication is essential for business success

Tim sat with a hint of pride evident in his smile. “ I've visited China over 60 times,” he shared with the reporter. In 2019, in a bid to more effectively serve Chinese clients, he relocated to Beijing with his family. "In the world of international law firm," Tim continued, “superior cross-cultural communication is paramount for delivering top-tier services. China has a rich tapestry of history and diverse regional cultures. Any law firm aiming for success here must not only have impeccable professional expertise but also deeply understand the local culture. It’s vital to empathize with our clients, to truly step into their shoes. This allows us to align our services with their unique needs and ensures that our team's efforts are seamlessly integrated with their objectives.”

“Switching firms after 20 years with Steptoe was no small decision, but Dentons US stands out in its own right,” Tim remarked with a chuckle. “Dentons has an exceptional Intellectual Property and Technology (IPT) practice, offering a full array of services. Its global footprint and experienced team are distinctive advantages, we’re well-equipped to manage the nuances of various global jurisdictions. But our dedication goes beyond sheer legal expertise; we dive deep into our clients’ industries and ambitions, shaping our teams and strategies counsel to align with their business goals.”

In the past few years alone, Dentons attorneys have led over 300 cases in US district courts and various international courts. Dentons’ consistent performance at the ITC underscores its dominance in the high-tech domain. The advantages of being part of such a dynamic team are evident,” said Tim. “I remain committed to shuttling between the U.S. and China, unwavering in my dedication to safeguarding the interests of Chinese companies in the U.S. and assisting them in navigating the intricate challenges of these ever-evolving times.”

Great minds are destined to converge

Despite Dentons’ expansive global presence, we prioritize flexibility in assembling teams tailored to our clients’ needs. Collaborating with Dacheng lawyers and other trusted Chinese attorneys we’ve known and worked with over the years, we don’t adopt a “one size fits all” strategy. Our diverse teams work seamlessly and efficiently, ensuring every client receives the undivided attention they deserve, always putting their best interests at the forefront. This integrated approach underscores our commitment to delivering unparalleled legal solutions.

As the interview commenced, the city lights of New York twinkled in the background. Stephen Yang, affectionately known as Steve, a new member of Dentons US intellectual property team, dialed in from the firm's New York office. Despite the late hour, Steve’s gaze was undeniably sharp, a testament to his unwavering dedication.

Born in Nanjing, Steve moved to the United States at the age of 14. He has a profound academic background in science and engineering, with extensive experience in medicine and chemistry. Further accentuating his credentials, Steve graduated with distinction, securing a juris doctor degree. His expertise isn't limited to academia; he holds bar and court admissions across multiple U.S. states and stands as the chief litigator for the US International Trade Commission. With an exemplary track record and innate prowess, Steve has rightfully earned his spot as a rising star in the IP practice.

Reflecting on his journey, Steve mused, “Behind every successful lawyer is a trail of relentless effort. Prior to any court appearance, hours are spent meticulously sifting through, organizing, and analyzing intricate details. These tasks may seem mundane, but they're paramount—often determining the outcome of a case. Beyond this, the skill lies in distilling vast and complex data and information, enabling us to articulate our client's position in a manner that resonates with both judges and juries.”

Such intricate tasks necessitate the collaborative efforts of a cohesive and skilled team, a cornerstone of Dentons’ longtime prosperity. It's also the primary reason Steve was drawn to Dentons. "Regardless of the complexity of the tasks I delegate, my colleagues consistently deliver commendable solutions by day's end. This strength was apparent to me before I joined Dentons, and it now stands as my foremost asset when serving clients, especially those from China," Steve observed.

You should always be ten steps ahead of your competitors

“Intellectual property is an intricate field, and its complexities amplify when government entities, corporations, and individuals intersect,” Tim remarked. “In my role as a senior intellectual property attorney and consultant, I guide multinational firms in crafting IP strategies to minimize risks. When I provide advice, it's crucial to understand the short-term outcomes that a strategy can deliver for the client. It’s akin to a game of chess, where one must plan several moves ahead, always striving to outthink the competition. Without this foresight, maintaining an upper hand becomes challenging.”

Steve resonates strongly with Tim’s perspective. “The most accomplished litigators truly grasp the essence of strategy,” Steve emphasized. “They should be well-versed in past precedents, astutely anticipate every move—perhaps  the next—in the procedure, predict the adversary’s reactions, reinforce their stance at each interaction with the court, and be adeptly prepared for all potential outcomes.”

In both legal and commercial arenas, triumphing without conflict is the pinnacle of strategy. “Litigation isn’t the sole solution. Our primary aim for clients is to maximize benefits while minimizing costs. While some companies might pursue litigation for publicity, it’s typically just one facet of a company’s overarching business strategy. As much as I enjoy court appearances, litigation should align with a client’s overall objectives. The IP battleground exists both in court and during negotiations. Over the years, Dentons US has adeptly steered numerous clients in bringing their adversaries to the negotiation table, ensuring the client’s interests are paramount,” Steve articulated.

 “Section 337? We're the masters!”

Since 2018, tensions in trade between China and the United States have heightened.  The Dentons US team has an impressive record of representing Chinese companies in both the ITC and district courts. At the ITC, they have adeptly managed patent and trade secrets cases, with one instance seeing the approval of approximately 60 design-around products. Their track record in trade secrets at the ITC is world-class. Additionally, Dentons attorneys have been instrumental in aiding Chinese companies to enforce their indigenous IP in the ITC and district courts. Our goal is to expand upon this legacy, serving to even more companies seeking a foothold in the US market.

“The Section 337 investigation,” Tim explained, “is often referred to as the US trade procedure related to intellectual property rights. It distinguishes itself with a swifter procedure and a more extensive set of remedies compared to traditional court litigation. In such investigations, respondents can face considerable risks. This isn't limited to the products they sell during the investigation but extends to potential future products as well. A loss in this context means not just significant financial compensation but also potential exclusion from the U.S. market, the repercussions of which can be staggering.”

For the past two to three decades, Chinese companies have been learning to navigate Section 337 investigations. Over time, China has succeeded Europe, Japan, and South Korea as the primary recipient of the most Section 337 investigation complaints. According to the US International Trade Commission’s data, from 2012 onwards, investigations involving companies from mainland China have constituted over 30% of the annual cases. By 2019, this figure surged, with mainland Chinese companies being implicated in nearly 60% of that year’s Section 337 cases. “While assisting Chinese companies in addressing Section 337 investigations, it's heartening to see their evolution from a reactive stance to actively leveraging the Section 337 framework for counteractions,” remarked by Steve.

A widely accepted belief in the industry is that the key to succeeding in a Section 337 case lies in securing the right attorney. “For companies involved in a Section 337 case, engaging lawyers with a stellar professional pedigree and extensive experience is paramount,” Tim emphasized. “Yet, another fundamental aspect is the attorney’s standing in the relevant court and their ability to swiftly earn the judge’s trust. Dentons shines in this regard. When it comes to representing Section 337 cases, we are unequivocally the specialists!”

Valuing legal services: beyond potential damages, think market future

When queried by the China IP reporter about the disparities between the legal markets of China and the United States, Tim candidly remarked that legal services in the U.S. typically come at a steeper price. This often catches Chinese companies unfamiliar with procuring U.S. legal services off guard. “In our interactions with clients from China, a significant portion of our discussions often revolves around cost,” Tim observed. “Clients approach us with pressing legal concerns, trusting in our ability to devise the right strategies and mobilize resources, connecting with pertinent individuals across diverse communication platforms. When the goal is to safeguard a significant market position or to address formidable competitors, it's imperative not to skimp on securing top-tier legal expertise,” he emphasized.

“At its core, whether it's the intellectual property or legal industry, it's fundamentally a service industry, dealing in intangible product,” Tim reflected. “Every client has a unique risk perception and comprehension of potential outcomes, leading to varied metrics of service value assessment. While the allure of cost-effective services might entice some, such offerings often fall short of achieving desired objectives,” Tim stated with a hint of resignation. From his years of observation, he noted that Chinese firms tend to prioritize long-term strategies over short-term gains. This not only showcases client expectations but also sets elevated standards for firms specializing in intellectual property legal services.

“For over two decades, I've represented numerous cases, observing firsthand the escalating intricacy and significance of representation. Throughout these years, Dentons has been a keen observer of China's swift economic ascent. As the business landscapes, both domestic and international, grow more intricate, it’s imperative for Chinese companies to assess the true worth of legal services. They need to align with law firms proficient in offering superior services and guidance for their ventures abroad. In this realm, Dentons stands as a steadfast choice for Chinese enterprises,” Tim concluded in the interview.