John Ettorre / Florida's Best Lawyers 2017: Miami Edition

Some senior-level attorneys barely use technology, either out of concern over leaks or because they simply prefer to rely on the technical contributions of colleagues. But for Miami attorney Jorge Espinosa, who began his career programming computers, that would never do.

As he was graduating from high school in the late 1970s, “the Apple II was just coming on the market, and I saved money for about a year and bought my own computer, and proceeded to teach myself how to program,” recalls Espinosa, now a partner with Espinosa Trueba Martinez, a boutique IP firm in Miami. It later led to a stint writing software programs for everything from calculating betting odds to helping the disco-era Bee Gees track the band’s finances.  

That early exposure to programming and its hands-on analytic approach later helped the Cuban immigrant carve out a specialty when he became a lawyer, which satisfied his grandmother, who always pushed him to enter a profession. He began by tackling software copyright cases, which led to litigation work in trademarks, design patents, and general patent cases.

Over time, Espinosa has become an authority on intellectual property matters, handling cases in such areas as software infringement and counterfeit trade goods, and frequently speaking on IP topics. His familiarity with technology certainly helps.

In presentations, he points to cases like one from 20 years ago involving the Los Angeles school district, which had to pay the software industry $300,000 for using unlicensed software. The district also had to spend $3 million on new licensed software.

“Unlike in the Northeast, where you have 300-attorney firms, most intellectual property work in South Florida is provided by boutique law firms.”

More recently, the explosion of cloud computing—a form of computing that depends on data being stored by third parties at some offsite location—opens a considerable additional frontier on IP issues, he notes. “Most cloud computing is integrally related to IP,” he explains. “You’re dealing with ephemeral things—not property or building or cars. You’re dealing with data, and concepts, and ideas on the cloud. There are so many issues that go into putting your data in the cloud that you have to be careful when you negotiate cloud contracts. You have to think of everything from encryption to who’s going to own the code.”

New European Union data privacy rules also mean that any U.S. companies that wants to operate in Europe must meet these more rigid standards. In addition, as he has noted in recent speeches, the EU has a new trademark registration system in which purely functional trademarks will no longer be good enough to pass muster. The field also continually evolves with the never-ending cat-and-mouse contest between businesses and patent trolls. “Interesting times,” he says.

Changes in South Florida’s Legal Market

Miami’s role as the gateway to Latin America and a major hub of international trade has made the region a particularly fertile place to practice intellectual property law, Espinosa says.  

“Unlike in the Northeast, where you have 300-attorney firms, most intellectual property work in South Florida is provided by boutique law firms. Your average boutique intellectual property firm in South Florida is anywhere from about four lawyers to 15 attorneys. And that’s the norm down here. But you’re starting to see more interest by national firms in coming to South Florida.” Happily, the volume of intellectual property cases coming through Florida has risen, he says, so there’s plenty of business for everyone.

Espinosa began his legal career on the staff of the Florida attorney general, where he says he got a great background in writing appellate arguments, and later moved to large international firms, where he honed his IP focus.

He put up his own shingle in 2008, co-founding a firm with fellow University of Miami law graduate William Trueba, Jr. It recently merged with another small firm to form Espinosa Trueba Martinez. “We saw it as a chance to provide a deeper bench for our clients, a wider variety of experience in the IP field, and to be able to man more cases—whether it’s doing the registration, litigation or with preparation of agreements or documents related to IP matters.” The firm also represents clients with the U.S. Customs Service. In all, it has handled business in approximately 60 countries. “Our clients have been very appreciative of the additional resources,” he says.

Like its predecessor, the merged firm remains focused on intellectual property. “We want to be very good at this particular area of the law, because it’s very complicated, and requires a special focus. In the next ten to fifteen years, I look forward to having the firm growing a little bit, but not too much,” he says. “We want to keep the cordial, amicable environment that we’ve always had at our firm. We don’t want to get so big that we begin losing touch with 
each other.”

Cuban Roots

America’s recent opening to Cuba now brings him full circle with his roots.

As a youthful immigrant from Cuba—he came to the U.S. with his grandparents shortly before his seventh birthday, the same year Castro took power—Espinosa bonded with American popular culture early. “One of the first things I saw after I came here was an episode of the old Batman series on TV, and I gotta tell you: I knew I was in the right place,” he recalls with a chuckle. “And after that I saw Star Trek, and I was sold.” The family lived in Chicago, Boston and Pittsburgh before eventually settling in Miami, when Jorge was in high school.

He returned to his native island recently, for only the second time since he left, and saw cause for both pessimism and optimism. “I was in Cuba visiting family and I was both depressed and impressed. Depressed because parts of the island looked like a war zone. But impressed because you saw Cubans typing messages in Wi-Fi hotspots, just like everywhere else in the world.”

As old Cold War tensions continue to thaw, there may even be opportunities to develop business in Cuba, he says. “We’re hoping that if things continue to change, there will be more opportunity in the future to maybe start developing businesses and protecting legal rights on the island.”