Christopher L. “Kit” Crumbley was a lead administrative patent judge on the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board when he began thinking about the next challenge he’d like to tackle.
He knew he wanted to use the skills he acquired over 21 years in federal government — 11 of those years as judge and nearly 10 years as an intellectual property attorney with the Department of Justice.
Helping clients and new lawyers navigate a still evolving area of law appealed to Crumbley. He found his next role at Bracewell’s intellectual property litigation team, where he is partner in the Austin office, the Houston-based firm announced this week.
“The firm obviously has deep Texas roots, which was important to me, but also an IP presence nationally, which was very important to me,” Crumbley told The Texas Lawbook.
One of Crumbley’s interests lies in the green revolution and Bracewell is recognized for its work in the energy space.
“Any time that there’s a move in technology like that, there’s going to be intellectual property questions that come up,” Crumbley said. “And so being able to sort of leverage that into a practice was really intriguing to me and something that I’m hoping to help the firm’s existing client base with.”
Crumbley was appointed to PTAB in 2012, as the patent reform law America Invents Act was going into effect.
“We started doing these trials not really knowing what they would look like, so everything you did was the first time something was done,” Crumbley said.
He authored hundreds of decisions and ex parte appeals, advised the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and was involved in significant PTAB and agency reform efforts, according to Bracewell’s announcement.
Crumbley saw a unique duality to cases that came before him. While the validity of patents were challenged before PTAB, an infringement claim often was being made in a district court at the same time.
“Coordinating those two and figuring out how to best present your case in these two sort of parallel venues is tough,” Crumbley said. “It’s something that really requires a lot of strategic thinking at the outset.”
Crumbley saw a need for lawyers with his experience in both areas to advise clients.
“Kit’s unparalleled experience strengthens our ability to provide comprehensive advice and counseling to businesses across all technological fields, most notably regarding post-grant validity challenges and their appeals,” said Doug Stewart, chair of Bracewell’s IP litigation practice.
Providing mentorship to up-and-coming lawyers is also important to Crumbley. He hearkens back to his early days in the DOJ when he was handed a case and quickly ushered into court. He was able to coach others in his role at PTAB. In this new phase of his career, he wants to find ways to involve early career lawyers in the intellectual property law space.
He recognizes he’s probably in a rare group of former PTAB judges who gave up their benches to go into private practice. Many of the judges left when they retired, he said.
“It’s just one of those things where you want to stay engaged, you want to stay interested,” Crumbley said. “You want to stay interesting, too.”
In his spare time, Crumbley chairs the Planning and Zoning Commission in Bee Cave, the Austin suburb where he lives. Crumbley said he’s always been civically oriented and interested in being involved with city government. The mayor of Bee Cave when his family moved there was the middle school science teacher to one of his daughters. He got to know her and, when a commissioner spot on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission opened, he volunteered. The mayor later tapped him for the chairmanship.
“It’s an interesting way to sort of flex a different muscle but also continue to give back,” Crumbley said.