Monday, December 11, 2006

Questions about the Jackson/McKenna connection

Although the press has presented the image of a disgruntled inventor-truck driver (Joe Jackson) lashing out against a patent attorney (Michael R. McKenna) for cheating him on his truck-toilet invention, some further details might be helpful in understanding what happened. Jackson had McKenna's business card with him when he went to the 38th floor offices at 500 West Madison, where McKenna rented office space from the intellectual property law firm Wood, Phillips, Katz, Clark & Mortimer. Presumably the business card of the solo practitioner McKenna did not mention Wood, Phillips. Presumably Jackson had never met McKenna previously, because Jackson forced McKenna's paralegal, Ruth Zak Leib, to identify McKenna for Jackson [but see statement of C.L. Sparks (below) to the contrary].

IPBiz has not seen any discussion of how truck driver Joe Jackson from Chicago's West Side was put in touch with downtown solo practitioner Michael R. McKenna. Similarly, the details of what McKenna (or Leib) did on behalf of Jackson, or a ballpark figure for how much Jackson was charged, have not been discussed. Presumably, McKenna (or Leib) did some kind of prior art search and told Jackson that his invention had already been done. The timeline of evolution of Jackson's work has not been discussed. At some point, Jackson went on the internet, reviewed work in the area, and got the idea that McKenna had cheated him. The Sun-Times suggested a connection to patents which had been prosecuted by the Boston firm of Cesari and McKenna. The Chicagoist, based on a report by CBS news, suggested a connection to the Wood Phillips firm (US 6,240,576 by Leslie Cosby). [The website also has a picture of Jackson, who is black.] Somehow, Jackson got the idea that he had been terribly wronged by McKenna, and settled matters with a gun. In addition to McKenna, two other people [Allen J. Hoover (a partner at Wood Phillips) and Paul Goodson (an employee at Wood Phillips)] were killed, and their connection to Jackson's problem is unexplained. Is it simply wrong place/wrong time?

The Chicago Tribune (as reproduced in the Belleville New Democrat) had the following:

Joe Jackson's pastor, the Rev. C.L. Sparks, said he went with Jackson a few years ago to meet a patent attorney downtown who he now believes was Michael McKenna, an intellectual property specialist and one of the three men slain Friday.

The pastor recalled that at the meeting Jackson handed McKenna an envelope stuffed with $5,000 cash as a retainer.

A spokesman for the Wood, Phillips, Katz, Clark & Mortimer law firm said attorneys there did not know of Jackson until the shootings.

"The attorneys at Wood Phillips have no recollection of any mention of Joe Jackson or having ever seen him before," Mark Spencer said in an e-mail response to questions from the Chicago Tribune. "The first they knew of him was when he came through their door Friday afternoon. It's unclear if Joe Jackson ever even visited Michael McKenna in their offices at Citigroup Center before that afternoon.

"That said, Wood Phillips staff didn't know of Mr. McKenna's clients, in general, because he was an independent operator, not a member of their firm or even `of counsel' to the firm. Although he also did practice IP (intellectual property) law, he was truly a sole practitioner with his own independent practice."

Police on Friday found a crinkled copy of McKenna's business card in Jackson's pocket, though they could not determine how or when he got it.

IPBiz notes that the correct person to ask about prior dealings between Jackson and McKenna is Leib, not members of Wood Phillips. Further, attorney disciplinary rules require lawyers to keep track of financial dealings with clients. If Jackson gave McKenna $5,000 (or more), there should be records.

The Tribune article also suggests that Joe Jackson may have been pursuing a malpractice action against McKenna:

George Jackson remembers his uncle's excitement about the prospect of marketing his invention and telling him that the lawyer said he'd call back in six weeks.

After six weeks came and went, he called again and was told "his idea wouldn't fly."

Later, George Jackson said his uncle saw a similar invention being sold on the Internet and became convinced the attorney to whom he had given his savings had patented his idea without giving him credit.

"I believe he saw it out there and that really pissed him off," Jackson's nephew said.

The attorney stopped taking his calls, compounding his frustration, relatives said.

About a month ago, Jackson told Sparks he had finally, after several rejections, found a lawyer to take up a case against the attorney Jackson believed had wronged him.

Sparks said Jackson told him the lawyer had discovered a patent under the name of a woman the lawyer believed was related to the attorney Jackson was suing. The patent, for an invention similar to Jackson's truck toilet, was obtained a few days after Jackson's first meeting with the patent attorney, Sparks said. This report of a patent could not be verified in government records.

The Tribune also noted:

James Grogan of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, the state agency that disciplines lawyers, said there were no records indicating that Jackson filed a complaint against McKenna over any alleged patent dispute.

IPBiz notes that legal action against McKenna could have been contemplated in the absence of filing a disciplinary complaint. As noted previously on IPBiz, disciplinary actions against lawyers are notoriously ineffective.


A Dec. 11 report by ABC7 seems to be in conflict with the Tribune quote from James Grogan:

Michael McKenna was the attorney Jackson was apparently upset at. The 58 year old patent attorney was killed in the shooting. Jackson's family says he thought McKenna had conned him and taken money for a patent that he later said was unavailable. According to a McKenna family friend Jackson had filed a complaint with the attorney's registration and disciplinary commission some time ago. The friend says the commission investigated the complaint and cleared McKenna of any wrongdoing.

Different states have different rules on the disclosure of complaints against lawyers when the complaint is NOT found to have merit.

ABC7 was pursuing the lead about a patent granted to Leslie Cosby:

Cosby felt a chill when she heard the news last week that a gunman had entered the law office of Wood Phillips and opened fire. She knew the attorneys there had worked on her patent for a portable toilet. Then she learned the gunman, Jackson was apparently upset because he believed someone had stolen his idea for a portable toilet.

Previous posts on the matter from IPBiz include


Blogger russell l lee said...

If the associations whose duty is to act against lawyers who rob their clients do nothing, then what is to be expected in a nation where boys grow up playing with gunds?

Russell L. Lee

9:40 AM  

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