Peter Abruzzese, an attorney who specializes in technology law, received a Distinguished Alumni Achievement Medal during the Fall Awards ceremony held Wednesday, October 8, 2003 at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).
What do Sheraton Hotels, Madison Square Garden and digital optical fiber telecommunications have in common? A lot ? when it comes to intellectual property (IP) ? according to Abruzzese, a resident of Summit, who graduated from the Newark College of Engineering (NCE) in 1964. NCE grew into NJIT in 1975 with the addition of the New Jersey School of Architecture. The trademark rights of Sheraton and Madison Square Garden and patent protection of the optical fiber telecommunications represent a critical and substantial asset of these businesses and must be carefully protected, as Abruzzese, a partner at the law firm of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel in New York City, knows from personal IP experience with all three.
But protection and exploitation of famous trademarks and technological developments through trademarks, copyrights, patents and trade secrets are just a few facets of the legal work that Abruzzese, a specialist in IP and technology law, has done for more than three decades. IP considerations are also an important element of corporate transactions of every type, from license and franchise agreements to acquisitions and divestitures. Abruzzese has seen the prominence and focus of his legal specialty rise dramatically in the estimation of senior corporate management over the years. “In fields such as bioengineering, entertainment, e-commerce, computers and software, electronics and telecommunications, intellectual property is often a company’s most important asset,” he says. “To be successful in today’s business environment, you have to be very vigilant in protecting technology, trademarks, copyrights and other intellectual property because they can comprise a substantial asset of your company and often represent a competitive advantage in the market place.”
In Abruzzese’s view, effective management of intellectual property is an engine of progress and competition. Inventors, entrepreneurs and large companies alike must be assured that they can move forward without concern that other parties will assert prior rights to an innovative product or service and preclude others from copying the innovation.
Before entering the IP arena, Abruzzese worked as an electronics engineer at Lockheed. He started his IP career as a patent attorney at RCA’s David Sarnoff Research and later joined ITT. “The education I received at NCE prepared me for engineering as well as law school,” he says. “My preparation in engineering equaled what any of my peers from Princeton or Stevens brought to the job. NCE also sharpened the analytical skills I needed for Seton Hall Law School, which I attended in the evening for five years.”
Abruzzese says that he was attracted to law and the IP field because he could build a career that required the creative application of a broad set of skills, including his technical knowledge, in meeting diverse and stimulating challenges. This was certainly the case during his 25 years with ITT, where he became associate general counsel-intellectual property, general patent counsel, and vice president. It was at ITT that his work ranged from IP issues underpinning innovations in the electronics and telecom industries, ABS brake systems, night vision goggles and optical fibers to those involving Madison Square Garden, hotels and casino gaming.
In 1998, Abruzzese moved to Starwood Hotels & Resorts to become its vice president, associate general counsel and general patent counsel after Starwood acquired ITT’s interests in the hospitality industry and ITT spun off various other businesses. At Starwood, Abruzzese was responsible for the IP issues associated with nearly 750 hotels worldwide and the Caesars Palace gaming casinos.
Several years ago, Abruzzese decided to continue his career as outside counsel, and became partner at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel. His work is as diverse as ever, spanning the IP spectrum from hotels to satellite radio. Additionally, he participates in IP seminars held on the NJIT campus under the auspices of the university’s Technology Development Office. The seminars afford IP professionals the opportunity for wide-ranging discussion of issues concerning their field, including the benefits that academic institutions may accrue from commercializing intellectual property in partnership with industry and government.
Abruzzese says that the campus he returns to for the seminars is very different from the one where he spent his years as an undergraduate. In addition to being bigger with a more diverse student body, including a much greater female presence, there are far more social activities on campus.
“When I was an undergraduate, we did manage to have fun along with working hard in class,” Abruzzese says. “Fraternities were the center of social life in those days, and I joined Sigma Pi. Inter-fraternity sports were especially important. I was on the Sigma Pi football team, and we were undefeated for four years, if you can believe that. It was a great experience. I have a picture of our team on my desk.”
The education and experiences that Abruzzese gained at NCE has afforded him the knowledge to develop a successful career in the IP industry that has spanned over 30 years and has taken him around the globe. His engineering background became the backbone of his education and prepared him for Seton Hall Law School, 25 years at ITT Corporation, and now as a partner at a very prestigious law firm. Abruzzese hopes that the prominence of the IP arena continues to grow in corporate America and that other NCE graduates will consider this interesting and challenging field.