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By Anna Stolley Persky
April 17, 2017
Jim Markwith is a cofounder of Symons Markwith LLP, which has offices in Seattle, Newport Beach, California, and Washington, D.C. Markwith’s practice focuses on providing transactional and corporate advice to technology companies. Markwith has in-depth expertise in information technology, intellectual property protection, and health care law.
Prior to cofounding Symons Markwith in 2015, he served as in-house counsel for the high-profile companies of Adobe Systems, Microsoft, General Electric Healthcare IT, and Allscripts Healthcare. Before attending Santa Clara University School of Law, Markwith served as a U.S. Navy pilot and taught economics at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Before you started law school, you were a pilot for several years. How did you end up on that career track and why did you switch to law?
Actually, after getting my undergraduate degree, I had planned on going to law school. I applied to law school and then, on a whim, applied to the Navy flight program. I got into both programs and decided I could postpone my legal career while I went to flight school. When you think about it, I had two choices. I could incur more student debt, or I could have someone pay me and support my country at the same time. Being a military pilot intrigued me. I was interested in serving my country, and I thought flying an airplane would be a good way to do that. It seemed like it would be challenging, which it was. I had no flight experience at all, so I learned everything from scratch. I eventually went back to what I had planned to do in the first place, which was to attend law school.
Early in your legal career, you focused on intellectual property law and set your sights on an in-house position. Why?
That’s easy. Intellectual property has always interested me. It is the heart of the value of what businesses have to offer. My first summer associate job during law school was at a firm in Silicon Valley, so I got some experience with technology companies right from the start of my career. Once I decided I wanted to focus on intellectual property, I studied software and technology, and have kept myself current on the newest technologies ever since. I knew early on that I wanted to be an in-house corporate counsel because I thought that was the best opportunity to get closer to the technology and the process of bringing technologies to market.
Before starting your firm, you worked at a number of technology companies. What expertise did you gain through your in-house experiences?
At Adobe and Microsoft, I got to focus first on pure software, intellectual property and licensing, then information technology, cloud computing, and standards setting and interoperability. Both positions really expanded my horizons from a technology perspective. I was . . . chief counsel for CodePlex, Microsoft’s open source project, and I helped close over 40 acquisitions involving a wide array of technologies. Switching into health care IT, I was able to use my technology and IT background and learn health care privacy laws, including HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and related regulations. I worked on issues related to improving health care, not just on a policy basis, but by helping my clients create and utilize information technology to improve [it].
You went back to private practice in 2014 and cofounded Symons Markwith in 2015. What kinds of clients do you have and what type of work are you doing these days?
I have quite a range of clients, from startups to very large Internet web services providers and other technology leaders. I support clients on a wide array of matters, including negotiating important transactions and drafting terms and conditions for product offerings. I also work on issues like open source software use and compliance, support for mergers and acquisitions, and cloud-based product development. From the very beginning, when I started my career, I worked with clients pushing the edge of technology. It’s still like that—my clients are really on the cutting edge of technology, and that’s the way I like it.
In addition to your legal practice, you teach intellectual property law at the University of Washington School of Law. What’s your background in teaching and why continue to do so?
While I was in the Navy, I earned my MBA and then began teaching economics at the U.S. Naval Academy. When I started Santa Clara University School of Law, I set my schedule up so I could go to law school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then teach economics at Santa Clara University on a full-time basis the other days of the week. It helped pay for law school. I still teach, although now I teach about the law and, specifically, intellectual property. I teach because I enjoy it. To prepare for a class, I have to dig deeply into the subject and really understand it. Teaching helps me stay current. Most recently, I am a mentor and adjunct professor for the Entrepreneurs’ Law Clinic at Santa Clara University School of Law, where I teach and mentor second- and third-year law students as they provide real-life legal support to Silicon Valley startups.
You have spent a good part of your career counseling clients on health care technology issues. What kind of challenges does the health care industry face when it comes to technology?
There has been a lot of attention paid to health care lately, with the emphasis on bringing costs down and, at the same time, improving access to care. The issues related to that concern patient and provider access to medical records, and using big data to improve health care. Access to health care data can help improve treatments and outcomes while being more cost effective. The challenge is how do we as lawyers help our clients solve access issues to big data, using new technologies, while protecting their intellectual property and data rights? And how do you give or get access to health care data while complying with regulations and maintaining patient privacy? Another question our society faces concerns interoperability in the health care industry. Right now, patient records are stored in proprietary data formats that are not readable by other electronic health care systems. A particular hospital, for example, will have records that are not readable by another hospital using another electronic health care record system. Because of that and other challenges, hospitals still resort to faxing records to each other. That’s technology that is decades old. There’s nothing efficient about that. So we need to have a nationwide infrastructure, interoperability standards, and technologies to solve that. One of my early clients, the CommonWell Health Alliance, is working on that. [It] is a nonprofit industry alliance that is working on that challenge, allowing health care records to be accessible from wherever the patient is, while respecting patient privacy. I believe this will continue to be one of our society’s biggest challenges in the next decade.
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