Trademarks, Dragon Boats and Roberta Jacobs-Meadway

The Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott IP attorney found her strength on the water during her recovery from breast cancer

Published in 2011 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers magazine

By Ross Pfund on May 19, 2011


Q: What drew you to the law?

A: Basically, I’m a frustrated writer. It was a love of language that started out in playwriting. But I realized very soon that I lacked the creative talent to write great plays, and being a starving playwright doesn’t have a lot of appeal. The law, and specifically trademark and unfair competition and copyright law, seemed to be a place where I could use some of my interest in writing, work with creative people, work with new ideas … and not be a starving playwright.


Q: Has your love of language and writing benefitted you in your legal career?

A: Clearly. The relationship between [my practice areas] and language and words and where you draw associations, where you find similarities, is all of a piece. It’s heavily dependent on words.

Then there’s the aspect of being able to use language to persuade and negotiate. To a certain extent, anytime you’re in a courtroom setting, you’re the playwright and a performer and a director.


Q: Is it difficult to juggle all those roles?

A: It’s a challenge. That’s one of the things that I like about appellate argument, especially before the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, or arguing before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, where you have, if you will, a knowledgeable group of listeners. You can engage in that back-and-forth discussion on points of law. There is the effort to persuade, to convince, and being open to being persuaded and convinced and understanding where the other side’s arguments are coming from.


Q: Did the performance aspect come naturally to you?

A: It did not come naturally. When I had to speak in high school, I could hear my knees knocking. The only way to be able to do it is to get up and do it. Relatively early in my career, I was fortunate to be working with Art Seidel, who was the dean of the Philadelphia intellectual property bar. Working with him gave me tremendous opportunities as a young lawyer to present arguments, to work in court, and to be on my feet in front of a judge.


Q: Can you tell me about your battle with cancer?

A: I was diagnosed [with breast cancer] in 2007 and went under a lumpectomy and radiation. As I was beginning the recovery, I was fortunate enough to discover a sport that I had never participated in before: dragon boating. I discovered an entire community of breast cancer survivors who were involved in dragon boating. It was one of those things that greatly aided in my recovery, not only physically, but just in terms of attitude.

When I first had my procedure, I was given one of these typical lists of thou-shalt-nots. It was “Thou shalt not lift anything over five pounds; thou shalt not get your blood pressure taken on that side; and thou shalt not engage in gardening, and thou shalt not live!” You look at the restrictions and you say, “Whoa. What’s this all about?” And through dragon boating and the community you realize that, frankly, most of that’s bunk. The sooner you disregard that kind of advice, the sooner you’re going to get your life back together.


Q: The sport looks incredibly physically difficult. What does it take to train for something like this?

A: The joke is, at the age of 57, I suddenly found myself becoming a competitive athlete. I had not engaged in any team sport since my freshman year of college. All of a sudden, we’re on a team that’s competing in Chattanooga, [Tenn.], at the nationals and at an international competition at Peterborough, Ontario.

When I first started to think of [participating], my reaction was, “I don’t have time for this. Where am I going to find time in my schedule?” And my son looked at me and said, “You’ll make the time.” He wasn’t wrong. During the season, there is a possibility of five practices a week. We make the practices that we can make. Off-season, we train at a gym in a warehouse where the workouts are short and intense, because most of the races we do are 500 meters. So you have a very short and intense burst of activity. The longest races we do are 2,000 meters. It goes by pretty quick, but when you’re in that boat and paddling, it’s amazing how long two minutes can be. But the training is fun.


Q: When you get out there for a race and you’re at the starting line, waiting, is it similar to the feeling before you go into a courtroom?

A: The first race, there’s always that adrenaline rush, just like the first time you make your opening in court. For the second race, it’s like when you’re there in court on the matter and you’re back after lunch. You’re settled down. But there’s always that feeling of looking around, checking out the competition. Putting on your game face. Getting in the zone. There’s a great deal of similarity. You need to prepare—not just going into court, but anything to do with your practice. Whether you’re meeting with a client, going over strategy or working on a license agreement with the other side. It’s all the same: prepare, prepare, prepare.

Dragon boating is also a team sport. The guys in the back can’t paddle faster than the guys in the front. They’re not going to get there any sooner. And to a certain extent, working as a lawyer with colleagues and with clients is also very much a team effort. Different people on the team may have different roles, but your team is strong if everybody understands you keep your head in the boat, your eye on the stroke, and you’ve got to keep your focus.

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