Tops in His Field

There are few things Jonathan Spadt enjoys more than tending to his 20-acre farm

Published in 2005 Pennsylvania Rising Stars Magazine — December 2005

Some people think Jonathan H. Spadt specializes only in patent/intellectual property law, but that’s just one area of his expertise. Chickens, for example. He knows chickens. And hay baling. He’s good at hay baling. Need advice on growing corn and tomatoes without chemicals? Spadt’s your man.

Like most lawyers, Spadt puts in a lot of hours at the office. But unlike most lawyers, he also puts in a lot of time on his land, tending hay, tomatoes (beefsteak, Early Girl and Mountain Pride), corn, pumpkins and several types of peppers, including sweet bells, cherry hots and habaneros. He’ll wake up before light on a Saturday morning and spend 12 hours working the land before falling to sleep sore but with a satisfied smile on his face. And then he’ll get up the next morning at 4:30 to drive to his other job at RatnerPrestia in his pickup truck, which has double back wheels and an NRA sticker in the side window.

“He seems to have a 48-hour day,” says Paul Prestia, one of the founders of the firm. “But he’s one of our big producers. He has taken on a lot of responsibility in our firm, including management, and he’s great with client relations — clients bond with him. When you combine talent with initiative and reliability and put that all together in a young person, you have yourself a gem.”

The 34-year-old Spadt practices intellectual property law, with an emphasis on high-tech, chemical processing and implantable medical devices, including strategic risk avoidance, transactional counseling, and domestic and international patent prosecution and portfolio development.

So yes, he looks at home in a suit. But you should see him with a shotgun in his hands, or the Savage Model 99 lever-action rifle that used to belong to his grandfather, which Spadt proudly retrieves from a safe in his restored 1850s-era Lower Pottsgrove farmhouse to show a visitor. Originally from the Allentown area, Spadt has hunted and fished all his life; he has deer heads mounted in his home office.

Spadt isn’t one of those people who want to close the gates now that they’ve got their little piece of rural heaven. But he is passionate about trying to save what he and his neighbors have, and he’s not all talk. In the past he has served as chair of the Lower Pottsgrove Township Zoning Hearing Board, and today he is a township commissioner. He also is an active member of the local and state farm bureaus and is a strong supporter of the Montgomery County Lands Trust.

Rod Hawthorne, the longtime Lower Pottsgrove Township manager, says Spadt brings humor, diplomacy and an evenhanded honesty to his work in public service.

“He has a way of bringing out the best in everyone,” says Hawthorne. “And he does not come out shooting from the hip. He listens and he is open to suggestions. I think he has all the credentials to go where he wants in politics — the personality, the looks and the professionalism.”

Spadt enjoys local politics and says it helps him in his law practice as well. “You learn how to deal with people and are forced to become more diplomatic, which is a strength that helps in all other relationships,” he says. Might he run for a higher office one day? “I suppose I am toying with the idea of possibly becoming involved at the state level,” he says. “Not for at least a few years, though.”

With Lower Pottsgrove becoming more of a bedroom community than a farm town, Spadt’s problem-solving qualities will be tested. Like spring corn, new houses are sprouting up all over the township. This sometimes leads to conflict — “Why are they allowed to have a dusty, smelly farm right next to our house?” is a constant refrain — and sometimes it’s comically sad. One day when Spadt was tilling, he looked up from his tractor to see several of the neighbors from the new nearby subdivision watching in amazement. As it turns out, seeing Spadt was like spotting an endangered animal in their back yard — “Look! A farmer! Just like on TV!”

Spadt may be a rare breed in his neighborhood, but he doesn’t want to be an endangered species. He values open land. He fears development.

“It can be overdone,” he says. “Some people want to build on every square inch.”

How did he wind up living out in Lower Pottsgrove Township in a house so old that families probably sat in it discussing the implications of the upcoming Civil War? It started with a simple idea: He and his wife, Missy, an accountant, wanted a few acres and a farmhouse. They never imagined getting 20 working acres and tending it themselves, but the house and property just felt right to them.

The furniture wasn’t even in the house yet when an old farmer, a neighbor, asked if he could use part of their land for his tractor turnaround. Spadt wasn’t even sure what a tractor turnaround was — it’s a spot off the field large enough for a tractor to turn around and line up for its next run — but he said, “Sure.” That’s how he met Herb Gaugler, a lifelong farmer who would become a friend and mentor.

While one might expect a lifelong farmer to look at the fancy lawyer with some disdain, that wasn’t the case. “He had a lot to learn in the beginning, but he worked hard and he learned fast,” says Gaugler. “He’s a good neighbor, and he’s a good farmer too.”

Spadt feels the two were destined to meet. “It’s been six years and he has been teaching me the whole time,” he says. “The first time I asked him to help me bale hay, he did it all himself. Just the other day I got the hay in myself and it was the first time in six years I did it all myself.”

Still, he has trouble calling himself a farmer — a mark of high distinction in his eyes.

“To say I am a farmer is kind of an insult to real farmers,” he says.

One thing he does know how to raise is children. He and Missy have two boys: Henry, 3, and Jacob, 1.

“They love the farm,” Spadt says. “They love the space and the ability to run around and explore the fields and woods. They both love to climb on the John Deere [the littlest tractor] and pretend to drive it. I’ve taken them on hay rides, and sometimes I’ll hold them on my lap when I’m on one of the larger tractors. Henry has told me that when he’s bigger he’s going to be a farmer too.”

 

Spadt brings a farmer’s hours with him to work, along with fresh tomatoes and bales of hay for Halloween. He’s often in by 5:30 a.m. He counsels clients ranging from large multinational companies to small high-tech startups, primarily with regard to maximizing protection of their intellectual property in ways that can increase revenues. He has developed strategic plaintiff positions for several large clients, including two major international medical-device companies.

He does a lot of opinion work, particularly for companies that make or license implantable biomedical devices such as stents and spine prostheses. Spadt likes that a lot of what he does is prevention — he prepares his clients for the possibility of litigation before it happens.

“Litigation is destructive, no matter what happens,” he says. “I like the business side.”

He’s a “tremendous” believer in the patent system, and he finds the work exciting. Millions in revenues, and sometimes lives, hang on his opinions. His work may determine if a lifesaving new product gets to market.

“I know people who say, ‘Patent lawyer? Yuck,’” he says. “It’s a no-respect kind of thing — pocket protectors and all that — but it’s fascinating.”

Ben Leace, a shareholder and member of the management committee at RatnerPrestia, stops short of saying patent/IP lawyers are the new rock stars of the law — but there’s no doubt the practice area is hot.

“How do you protect ideas around the world? IP isn’t a boilerplate agreement anymore,” says Leace. “There’s more to it now. It’s about lives and livelihoods.”

Leace and Spadt have worked together since Spadt arrived in 1996. “He’s been phenomenal,” says Leace. “He’s a good lawyer and very personable guy — clients just warm up to him. We worked on litigation together a couple of years ago and it showed what an incredibly organized person he is. He took such a handle on discovery. It was the cleanest discovery I have ever been involved in. That’s the way he is. He won’t leave the office without his desk being cleared at the end of the day.”

Spadt has always been highly organized. He took a liking to math and science because his dad was an engineer, but in sixth grade he portrayed Clarence Darrow in “Inherit the Wind.” That gave him some powerful ideas about what it might be like to be able to use the force of reasoned arguments and a well-focused mind. “I thought to have that power and ability would be amazing,” he says.

Still, he stayed with engineering for a while. After graduating with his bachelor of science in chemical engineering from Penn State University, he worked for Merck helping to build and retrofit pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities in Danville, Pa., and Albany, Ga. From there he went on to Villanova Law School and then RatnerPrestia upon graduation. He made shareholder only six years later.

A recent example of Spadt’s work: Binney & Smith was set to launch a new Crayola product — it was in the warehouses waiting to be distributed for the back-to-school sales cycle — when one of its other outside patent attorneys hit the emergency “stop” button, uttering a phrase that fills stockholders and CEOs with a dark chill: “The patent is a problem.” Spadt and his firm were summoned to provide a second opinion, and after an 80-hour week he gave an answer that parted the waters: “Everything is fine. Let it go.” One scientist was so happy she gave Spadt a hug.

“Sure, there are times when there is tremendous pressure and responsibility,” he says, “but there are also times when it’s fun.”

This could serve as his philosophy for running his farm: lots of responsibility yet lots of fun. He named it Yellow Wood Farm after a line in the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” that holds special resonance for him:

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood ... I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Spadt found a way to take both roads.

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