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May 19, 2012

Shop Talk: Knull Group, Intellectual Property & Business Attorneys


Daily Star

---- — Business name: Knull Group, Intellectual Property & Business Attorneys

Address: 31 Chestnut St., Cooperstown

Contact: www.eatdrinklaw.com, 643-5777

Co-owner/Interviewee: Devin S. Morgan

Established: 2008

Employees: Three partners

Shop Talk is a weekly column featuring locally owned and operated businesses. This week, we talk to Devin S. Morgan, co-founder of the Knull Group, which provides legal services tailored to the business needs of gourmet food and beverage primarily to businesses in New York state.

How long have you lived in the area?

I have lived here since 2008, but my wife grew up in Cooperstown. We moved here from the Boston area to be closer to family. Chuck Knull, my co-founder, moved here from New York City in 2007.

Tell me about your business:

We are a specialized business law firm. Our focus is helping food and beverage businesses protect their most important assets _ know-how, brand and business relationships. Chuck and I are intellectual property attorneys. Chuck is focused on trademarks and copyrights. I am a patent attorney and expert in technology development, trade secrets and business transactions. We also have a third attorney in the Finger Lakes, Matt Henderson, who is an expert in corporate matters and buying and selling businesses.

Describe a typical day in your business:

Our days really vary based on what our clients need. Many days, we are asked to handle patent and trademark filings, disputes, or complex transactions. The client just wants us to get it done and report back. Days like that are at the computer and on the phone, occasionally in a face-to-face negotiation. We write, we discuss, we argue and we cajole to get the best business result for our clients. When a client has a bigger challenge or project for which they need our advice, we meet with them at their business. That way, we can really see what is going on and get an understanding of their day-to-day challenges. I recently spent half a day with a client team to identify intellectual property ownership issues and start developing a system for identifying and protecting their intellectual property as they grow. That is my favorite kind of typical day.

How did you get started in this line of work?

I have an engineering degree from Dartmouth College and first learned about patent law as part of a product development class. I quickly realized I loved learning about new technology more than lab work and decided to go to law school to pursue patent law. I graduated into the dot.com craze of the late 90s and fell in love with entrepreneurship. I have worked for a K Street law firm and a Silicon Valley technology boutique, as well as being an in-house attorney for Maxtor Corporation and Seagate Technology. When we moved back to Cooperstown, I started my own practice to live the entrepreneurial dream. Chuck and I met in Fall 2011 after he finally tired of commuting to a NYC law firm. We found a common interest in the food and beverage industry and Knull Group and www.EatDrinkLaw.com were born.

Describe a memorable moment in your workplace:

For me, it was the moment when the Eat.Drink.Law concept was formed. We were on the way to a meeting at Brewery Ommegang and got talking about our ideal legal practice. I wanted to pick an industry niche where I could be a great business counselor and was marveling at the growth of breweries, wineries and gourmet foods in New York and our area in particular. Chuck mentioned that breweries had been some of his best clients and it all just started to click.

What have you learned from your work?

Business is difficult. I have had clients that have succeeded and clients that have failed. I've even had one legislated out of existence. Attorneys sometimes get caught up in minimizing risk and pursuing ideal solutions. In the real world of business, you can rarely afford the ideal and everything has some risk. Being responsible for my own businesses, cash flow, regulations, and employees has been eye-opening. The law is only a small part of being a good business counselor. You need to understand business fundamentals, know the industry, get to know the individual business, and keep everything in perspective.

What are some advantages as well as drawbacks of doing business in this area?

Chuck and I were inspired by all of the breweries, wineries, specialty foods, farms, orchards, restaurants and other great food resources in the region. It has been amazing meeting the innovative and hardworking entrepreneurs who make all of that happen. I was amazed to find some great technology companies around, too. The biggest drawback is geography. Places are far apart and there aren't always direct ways to get there. Given our regional focus and desire to meet with people where they work, it can mean a lot of driving.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

We are specialists, so we actually get a lot of our work from other attorneys in the area referring clients with intellectual property issues to us. Our real competitors are the Syracuse, Albany and New York City intellectual property firms. But none of them focus on the food and beverage industry. They are also farther away and don't have our passion for the region's agricultural, culinary tourism and food and beverage potential.

What advice would you give to someone trying to enter your field of work?

The law is an increasingly tough business. I don't recommend it unless you have a real calling for some part of it. You should only pursue a legal career if you can find a niche you are passionate about and can be great in. Patent attorneys have had to be specialists for a long time _ it is impossible to know every technology. Increasingly, other attorneys will need to find a unique value proposition to succeed.

Shop Talk interviews are conducted by Cassandra Miller. For information, call The Daily Star at 432-1000, ext. 217, or email news@thedailystar.com.