Jonathan Waldrop is one of those people with a complicated sounding job title and responsibility that is vital to big corporations like YouTube and Adobe. The patent litigator specializes in trademark litigation involving interactive web technologies, video-on-demand, cable technology, telecommunications and medical devices for commercial litigation firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP.
His list of cases have been among the most influential regarding how technology is shifting the dialogue on corporations and law. They include a major case where he successfully represented Google in a case in which a company, Eolas claimed to own the technology that gave access to the interactive web. Without his defense, several major companies, including Yahoo! Amazon and others would have been open to hundreds of millions in infringement lawsuits.
The two parts of his work, technology and law, equally speak to his passions. “I love technology. I love the ability of technology to change people’s lives and I love the challenge of coming up with technical solutions to difficult problems,” says Waldrop. “And on the litigation side; I’ve always been intellectually curious and liked the idea of discussing ideas putting together arguments and dealing with difficult and intractable problems.”
For Waldrop, 41, paying it forward and listening to mentors has always been a big part of his success. “I had always wanted to be an engineer a mechanical engineer,” says Jonathan Waldrop. “My dream as a kid was to work for the automobile industry.” But a casual conversation led him to shifting his career eventually landing him in the epicenter of the technology world of Silicon Valley.
An internship in the 1990s connected him with attorneys working with a company that gave him other options. “I met some lawyers that took a liking to me and they asked what I was doing in school,” says Waldrop. “They said you should look into patent law with your technical background that the field is exploding and encouraged me to do it,” he says.
So the Harvard grad went veered from engineering to law, earning a juris doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law.
He counts mentorship and investment in individuals as the right way to build careers. “My life was changed by mentors, who demonstrated the importance of a legacy that whatever you do out there people feel your impact and your presence,” says Waldrop.
“I tell my team what separates so many people from having a tremendous career is a person that extends themselves and takes an interest in their development but makes opportunities available and gives them the space to learn, to make mistakes to get better and be committed to the process.” he says.
Recognized as one of the leading attorneys on technology cases in the U.S. and named in the publication “Best Lawyers in America” for 2015 and 2016; Waldrop has served as lead counsel for Google, Cox Communications and YouTube.
He counts the firm’s partner, Marc Kasowitz as his mentor and the founding and managing partner of his firm as a leader who supports diversity in talent. “He has a commitment to finding the best people and understanding that it comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and genders and has created that environment,” says Waldrop. “It starts at the top with the support of firm management that changes the culture.”
Another cornerstone for smart business, he says, is diversity.
“True diversity is when the people that start companies that the people they choose to embark on the journey with them are broader than the people that look like them,” he says. “I’m very passionate about diversity in the legal profession and in technology. It is an ethos and how we live.”
The Birmingham, Alabama native now lives with his wife Cristal and his two sons Mason, 12, and Anderson, 9, Redwood City, Calif., in tech mecca, Silicon Valley, but not before commuting back and forth from Atlanta, Georgia for almost five years while he cemented his career.
“For innovation and technology this is the future,” says Waldrop. “My practice exploded out here and it’s been the best decision of my life.”
He wants to see more African-Americans in Silicon Valley and sees it as a welcoming community.
“To me getting more African-Americans to come out here to see the opportunity and getting them plugged in and advocating for them to make people understand the best team is a diverse team. No group has a monopoly on talent or perspective.”
Sixteen years in he still loves his profession and being on the pulse of new technology in a place that celebrates that. “The next disruptive technology is being worked on right now that can change the world; less than 20 years ago no one had heard of Google.”
What’s next for him is to keep getting better. “To keep honing my skills as a trial lawyer; my goal is to be recognized as one of the best patent litigators in the world, be one of the best IP advisors globally, and be instrumental in promoting diversity in the partnership ranks of my firm – nationally.”
But while Waldrop may be in Silicon Valley for business the real benefit may be the legacy and opportunity he’s leaving for his two boys.
“I placed certain limits on myself coming from Alabama in the shadow of the civil rights movement, but my kids after two years here they don’t have them,” he says. “In their world you can come up with a technology that could change the world in your basement.”
“My 12-year-old says I want to invent some new solar power technology so we find a way to store solar energy and use it at night (instead of batteries) that only comes from here, they are going to walk around without limits.”