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Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Patent attorney sues former employer over wrongful termination for not filing applications
Bloomberg picked up the story of patent attorney Steven Trzaska suing L'Oreal after being terminated for not filing patent applications. The suit was filed in federal district court in Newark on
16 April 2015. Bloomberg noted:
A lawyer formerly in charge of applying for patents in cosmetics company L’Oreal SA’s U.S. office claims he was fired in December for refusing to make filings for dubious inventions just so the company could fill an annual quota. L’Oreal pledged to fight the allegations.
Fired L’Oreal Lawyer Says Patent Push Was Only Cosmetic
From the New Jersey Law Journal
Two weeks later, according to the suit, Trzaska was called into a meeting with the company’s head of human resources for research, Diane Lewis, who offered him 15 weeks of severance if he would leave the company. He did not accept, but on Nov. 25, 2014, he received a call from Thomas Sarakatsannis, general counsel of L’Oreal USA, who offered him 40 weeks of severance if he would leave, the suit alleges. Trzaska again declined, according to the suit, but on Dec. 8, he was told he was being terminated immediately.
Trzaska was told at the time of his dismissal that his position was no longer needed, but the same position was advertised soon thereafter, the suit alleges. The stated reason for dismissal was a pretext for the actual reason for his discharge, which was his refusal to sign patent applications for inventions that he did not believe to be patentable, and his refusal to supervise such conduct by patent attorneys and patent agents under his supervision, the suit claims.
A patent attorney or patent agent is legally and professionally responsible when reviewing a patent application “to make a good-faith determination whether the subject matter in an invention disclosure is potentially patentable,” according to the suit.
L’Oreal’s exposure in the case is “heavy” because Trzaska, 52, earned roughly $400,000 per year and could have reasonably looked forward to another 15 years of work, said Gerard Jackson, the Cherry Hill attorney representing Trzaska. Furthermore, jobs for lawyers in Trzaska’s speciality are scarce and his age makes it harder for him to get hired, Jackson said.
The quota in 2014 was 40 patent applications in the U.S. research division and 500 applications worldwide, according to details of the suit covered by the New Jersey Law Journal. The company then put “patent pending” claims on products in an effort to persuade consumers and shareholders its products were innovative, the suit alleges.
Trzaska’s suit says the patent quotas put him at risk of violating rules barring lawyers from bringing frivolous proceedings and making false statements to a tribunal. His suit, filed in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, based on diversity grounds, alleges violation of New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act.
I'm a patent lawyer located in central New Jersey. I have a J.D. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Stanford University, where I studied graphite intercalation compounds at the Center for Materials Research. I worked at Exxon Corporate Research in areas ranging from engine deposits through coal and petroleum to fullerenes. An article that I wrote in The Trademark Reporter, 1994, 84, 379-407 on color trademarks was cited by Supreme Court in Qualitex v. Jacobson, 514 US 159 (1995) and the methodology was adopted
in the Capri case in N.D. Ill. An article that I wrote on DNA profiling was cited by the Colorado Supreme Court (Shreck case) and a Florida appellate court (Brim case). I was interviewed by NHK-TV about the Jan-Hendrik Schon affair. I am developing ipABC, an entity that combines rigorous IP analytics with study of business models, to optimize utilization of intellectual property. I can be reached at C8AsF5 at yahoo.com.