ILNews

Lilly lawyer is leader in patent reform

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
In-House Counsel

Robert A. Armitage never intended to be a lawyer, let alone a corporate counsel representing one the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

But when his chosen path in physics began drying up because of dwindling government funding for science, the Michigan native looked to law school and took what he saw as an enormous risk.

Three decades later, the Indiana lawyer has been designated as one of the top 25 intellectual property attorneys in the country and serves as a senior vice president and general counsel for Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Company. And he recently experienced one of the most satisfying moments of his professional life: the passage of sweeping U.S. patent reform that he’s been advocating for since graduating from law school.

“Being in-house added a totally unexpected dimension to my career, but this third leg has been one of the most exciting parts so far,” he said. “Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, but I’ve not had a day that hasn’t been interesting and challenging in some way. I think the legal challenges you see here are more than enough to occupy your mind professionally.”
 

armitage-robert-15col.jpg Robert A. Armitage is a senior vice president and general counsel for Eli Lilly and Company based in Indianapolis. He’s been a leader in the intellectual property area of law during his legal career, and he’s been a leading advocate for U.S. patent reform. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Armitage grew up in Michigan and received a master’s degree in physics from the University of Michigan in 1971 with plans for a career in that field. But it was a tough time and the career outlook wasn’t good, he recalls.

He changed his course and went to law school. He remembers his first exposure to intellectual property law, and thinking that he’d never want a career in that practice area.

“My perception was that this was some crazy area of law where you have no idea what the law is even about,” Armitage said. “It’s an unusual field of law, in part, because we’ve had these types of issues and laws for 200-plus years. So, it was a little strange, a few months later, to think that this might be an interesting employment opportunity to go in-house as a patent lawyer.”

Armitage earned his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1973, but his preferred employer – Eli Lilly in Indianapolis – turned him down because the company didn’t hire directly out of law school. So he went to work for the first 20 years of his career at the Upjohn Company in Kalamazoo, Mich., before mergers eventually made it a part of Pfizer in the 1990s. There, he served as chief IP counsel and led the patent division.

In 1993, Armitage left the corporate counsel world for private practice and moved his family to Washington, D.C., becoming a partner at Vinson & Elkins and thinking he would spend the other half of his legal career there. But six years later, another opportunity came knocking and gave him the chance to return to Indiana, taking a position at the place he had originally wanted to work.

On Oct. 1, 1999, Armitage took a position leading Eli Lilly’s intellectual property division. He served in that role until becoming general counsel in 2003.

His influence in the area is wide ranging: Armitage is a member and past president of the American Intellectual Property Law Association and the Association of Corporate Patent Counsel, and is also a past chair of the patent committee of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the National Council of Intellectual Property Owners and National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation. He is a leader in the American Bar Association’s Intellectual Property Section.

In 2010, American Lawyer ranked him among the top 25 IP attorneys in the country, in part because of his leadership in negotiating the Pathway to Biosimilars Act, legislation that created a way for generic biologic drugs to get approval.

Similar to other pharmaceutical companies, Armitage said, half the legal group at Eli Lilly focuses on patents while the other half is divided up between other topics the company might face. Responsible for $4 billion to $5 billion in research and development efforts annually, the company has about 40 patent lawyers and just as many working on the other issues. Armitage said Lilly has worked in recent years to establish a legal infrastructure outside the U.S. because of increasing globalization.

“You need a local legal infrastructure in place, but one that’s pretty well-wired together and has a global legal perspective to know what’s happening in other parts of the world,” he said.

Armitage travels the world going to conferences and also meeting with clients and attorneys associated with Lilly and others in the industry. A typical day defies the definition of “typical,” Armitage says, since it usually varies dramatically depending on continuing legal challenges and whatever the emerging legal issue of the day might be.

Mostly, he focuses on strategic legal environment issues – or whether better ways might exist for the civil justice system to work for the company, he said. That could include reviewing potential product liability issues, reviewing contracts and deciding what partnerships might be worth exploring.

He’s hit rough spots through the years, being the legal chief in charge of navigating the murky waters of pharmaceutical regulations, the patent system and the emerging biofuels industry. He was on the losing side in Lilly’s legal woes in 2000 when unsuccessfully attempting to retain U.S. patent protection on antidepressant Prozac, its top seller at the time. He’s been at the front line of mass liability lawsuits by patients and patent attacks from three generic drugmakers involving the drug Zyprexa, and he’s been a part of Lilly settling many lawsuits out of court. Armitage said patent challenges will likely continue in the years ahead as more of Lilly’s patents are set to expire and generate more generics.

“The past decade or so has seen some difficult challenges, but I’m still standing,” he said.

One of Armitage’s proudest moments came in September when he saw 30 years of his advocacy for patent reform become a reality.

After almost a decade of negotiations, this year Congress passed what is called the America Invents Act, described as the most sweeping patent reform in 60 years. The president signed the legislation in mid-September, with Eli Lilly chief executive officer John Lechleiter standing nearby. Armitage said he took personal pride in seeing that, especially after his decades of work on reform and testifying before Congress on the topic.

“I’ve been for three decades trying to clarify, modernize and simplify patent law,” he said. “One of the most gratifying things to me, now after 30 years of effort, is to have what I think is an amazingly improved patent law system that’s more transparent to the public. I’m proud of the U.S. for having what’s probably the best, and probably the first 21st century patent system in the world.”•
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  3. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

ADVERTISEMENT