Patent Law Firms Say Goodbye To Donald Dunner, Man Who Started It All

No one can deny the importance of Donald Dunner to the field of patent law. He died Wednesday (10/16/2019) at the age of 88. The man was the dean of the D.C. patent appellate BAR, and worked at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner. Dunner was dedicated to IP law, and enthusiastic about protecting the interests of his many high-profile clients.

Paul Michel, who once worked as a chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, described Dunner as “a giant, a colossus in the field of patent law with no equal.”

Michel joked that Dunner was “the leader of every organization in the entire patent universe.” 

It’s not difficult to see why Michel had such kind words to say. Dunner argued a record-breaking 175 appeals to the appellate court system. He authored work on Federal Circuit practice. He worked for the Carter administration to build the Federal Circuit court system for patent appeal. He testified to Congress before it was created.

Dunner worked for the Bar Association of the District of Columbia (specializing in IP) from 1964 to 1965. He worked for the American Intellectual Property Law Association from 1979 to 1980. 

Dunner was well known for being fair and just in his decision-making. He had a reputation for such actions in court. Gene Quinn reported his death as a direct blow to IP law because “Dunner always had a grace and elegance that set him apart. He was a friend to judges and politicians, as well as a mentor to countless attorneys.”

One of his appellate partners, James Barney, wrote: “For more than four decades, Don was a mentor, a teacher, and an inspiration to many of us who sought to learn his craft of appellate advocacy.”

He continued, “He was never satisfied with a first draft, a second, or a third. In fact, drafting briefs for Don could be downright daunting. But along the way, he imparted wisdom to those eager to learn, he explained the nuts and bolts of appellate advocacy, and made us all proud to be part of the process. Don was everything I ever aspired to be as a lawyer — and still do.”

We live in a world where many of us continue to believe that legal advocates are only truly out for themselves, but Dunner was a man who made his world about showing others the good impacts that law can have. 

Dunner was a Brooklyn, New York native. He studied chemical engineering at Purdue University before enlisting in the United States Army. When he got out, he decided to study law at Georgetown University. The rest is history.

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