“A good lawyer is something of a gamer.” Discussing gaming, career strategy, management and dreams with Tomasz Grucelski

17 November 2023

You are an attorney, patent attorney, judge, an active member of various organizations, as well as a partner in one of leading patent law firms. JWP operates in over 100 jurisdictions. To begin with, I would like to ask where the idea for this kind of a career came from? Did anyone guide you in this direction?

Already in primary school, I had tentative plans to go to law school. 😊

First, I completed my bachelor’s studies in England. After returning to Poland, when I was a 5th-year student at the University of Warsaw, somewhat by chance, I got my first job in a law firm specializing in IP law. A friend of mine from high school and university called me and said they were looking for an employee, so I went to an interview. At that time, I had already completed a six-month specialization course taught by Professor Krystyna Szczepanowska-Kozłowska, I also knew that this was a fantastic field of law, but I had not yet thought about it as my future career. It was only when I started working that I became more involved in this area. After defending my master’s thesis entitled “Colour as a trademark,” for which I received an award in the competition held by the Patent Office, I was certain that I wanted to be a professional in this specific field of law. I was still young, I wanted to gain experience, meet interesting people and expand my horizons. Hence, the idea for some time off from working at the firm. First, I went to The Hague to do an internship at a branch of the European Patent Office, then I returned to work at the previous firm and after some time I went abroad again, this time to Alicante to do an internship at the European Union Intellectual Property Office. At that time, I was already a legal and patent attorney trainee, but I was convinced that such experience would enable me to acquire the knowledge and skills which I would then be able to use in my work. Following the second internship, I started working for JWP as a trainee.

When exactly did you become interested in IP rights? Was it during your studies?

At first, I didn’t think that this would be my field of expertise, but it turned out to be so interesting that I chose an IP-related specialization lecture. I could have chosen something entirely different, such as criminal law and deal with robberies, which is also interesting… but maybe not as much as IP law 😊

Do you remember your first day at JWP?

From the very beginning, I felt good at JWP. I had worked with Dorota Rzążewska for four years in the previous law firm. A university friend of mine also worked here. I shared a room with another lawyer, with whom I got on well from the start, so the memories of those first days are very positive.

Tell us something about your career path at JWP? Probably many young people are wondering how to become a partner…

I began my work at JWP as a student. I did the simplest things at that time. I started as a trainee, I performed more and more difficult tasks and handled more complex matters, I climbed the career ladder all the way to being a partner. In the meantime, I completed both training programmes, and I was also constantly involved in the daily life and growth of the firm. I put a lot of effort into representing JWP, which resulted in a series of some minor and major successes. I think that the internship programmes completed abroad, both at the EPO and the EUIPO, also boosted my career to a large extent. I find it easy to establish contacts in the international environment, which is probably due to the fact that I studied abroad. Thanks to all these experiences gained and acquaintances made, I feel at ease outside our country, which is of great importance both from the point of view of clients and internally, in the organization.

You are an active member of many national and international organizations…

I have been most involved in ECTA, I am a member of several of its committees. ECTA is an association of experts from EU Member States and many other countries from around the world. Its aim is to promote knowledge and the highest standards among IP law professionals. As an association, we are a recognized partner in discussions with the most important public bodies, such as EU institutions or WIPO. I started as a member of the Anti-Counterfeiting Committee, where I replaced Dorota Rzążewska. Then I was elected to represent this committee in the EUIPO-Link Committee (which aims, firstly, to actively monitor the daily work of EUIPO and, secondly, to contribute to the strategic development of this institution). Currently, I am a member of the Design Committee and I have many interesting projects ahead of me in connection with the upcoming reform at the EU level.

As a mentor, you supervise the progress of trainees and young employees at JWP. That’s quite a lot of duties. Does this mean that you like to do your best? Or does the role of a mentor also give you anything?

I like helping people, it doesn’t cost me much. From a human point of view, whenever anyone asked me if I could become their mentor, I always agreed. It’s no trouble at all, and I am happy to make it easier for young people at the beginning of their careers. If such persons come to me because an acquaintance of mine has recommended me or through some other channels, I don’t see why not. I like meeting new people, and younger people whom I mentor always adopt a slightly different perspective, which is why I also learn from them.

And what do you learn from young people?

A lot. Young people have a slightly less formal approach to their image. I think that if we continue this suite-and-tie tradition, then we may become less credible for the next generations, who in the same positions as we used to be, no longer wear suits, but dress more casually, wear sneakers, expose their tattoos, which is now absolutely normal and no one minds. Since I work with young people so often, I have a sense that I keep up with these changes. And as for skills, the younger generations inevitably find it easier to use new technologies, so contacts with people who have grown up in a virtual world from an early age helps me feel comfortable in this extremely dynamic and often surprising environment. When it comes to legal knowledge, I have more experience to share for the time being, but maybe someday I will learn from those persons whom I mentor today, and this is what I wish for myself and for them as well.

Do a less formal dress code and behaviour have an impact on more open and simpler communication with clients?

That’s for sure. I have always been a supporter of a more direct contact with clients, probably also because I spent a lot of time abroad, and you don’t really use all those formal “sir” or “madam” phrases. And that, in my opinion, is much better. However, in my job as a lawyer or generally in business, there is a rule that it is the client that is the first to suggest that we should use our first names and what form of communication is preferred. In my opinion, the communication model in Poland is still a bit ossified. On a daily basis, I try to be attentive and adapt the way of communication to the expectations of my surrounding.

On average, how many business trips do you make around the world each year?

It varies, it depends on the year. Last year, I travelled 6 or 7 times, this year likewise, but obviously I didn’t travel at all during the pandemic.

Do you see any differences in the industry depending on the place in the world you visit?

There are two aspects. First, the cultural one, which is associated with contacts with specific nations. The way of communication is different. You absolutely cannot communicate with an Australian the same way as with a Japanese or a person from Saudi Arabia. You have to be careful about that. As for our industry as such, there are more general issues. Some economies are more developed than others. There are also political aspects, various countries have different development conditions, e.g. India is a very important market for the pharmaceutical industry, and China is still forced to fight its internal problems related to counterfeiting, but here you can see a huge progress compared to the situation observed even a few years ago. In Asian countries, contacts with clients are also much more formal than, for example, in North America or Australia. With regard to international contacts, it is necessary to be sensitive, while bearing in mind all those cultural differences, although it seems that the progressing globalization is blurring some of them.

What do you like most about your profession?

I like two aspects of it to the same extent. First, it is the most international field of law. If you have a mark on a product, e.g. Coca-Cola, you should protect it both in Papua New Guinea and Argentina or Iceland. As a result, I get in touch with people from all over the world, which I appreciate very much, because it is an interesting and truly enriching experience. On the other hand, it is great that this field of law combines many others. In the case of counterfeits, you must apply the provisions of the Criminal Code, while in the case of a court dispute, the main role is played by the provisions of civil law, and a trademark dispute is in turn held before patent offices or, subsequently, administrative courts. Sometimes you also deal with customs officers, police or other officials, which is also great. I really appreciate this diversity.

Could you tell us about the most interesting case you worked on?

Each case is interesting. A month ago, we started to work on a case regarding a restaurant whose interior design and name have been inspired by one of the most popular Spanish series in recent times. We had to send a warning notice requesting the cessation of the use of the elements the rights to which are held by the producers of the series. We have had similar cases to handle. In one of them Frida Kahlo’s heirs from Mexico contacted us. The matter also concerned the catering industry and ended up with a settlement. These are often small cases, but very interesting.
Such types of infringements are often invisible from the point of view of the ordinary consumer. Some trademarks become part of pop culture or common language quickly or spontaneously, so it is important for their owners, if they want to keep their rights in force, to monitor what is happening on the market and respond quickly to the infringements.

Is a law firm specializing in IP law a place where hilarious situations are also possible?

It happens that clients come here and expect us to put down our phones because we may be eavesdropped on and everything must be secret… This happens and this may seem ridiculous or unnecessary, but on the other hand, it’s better that it is like that than the other way round. In many cases, the solution must be kept secret, because if it is disclosed too early, it may happen that it will not be granted protection.

You work a lot with clients from the gaming industry. What problems do clients from this industry come to us with?

Computer games are usually successful internationally. This is a great example of an industry where the issue of protecting IP rights must be looked at from a wider, global perspective. A game can be bought by anyone around the world and sometimes other entities want to benefit from its success in a more or less honest way. For example, there are people who want to take advantage of someone else’s popularity and sell various types of gadgets or register Internet domains with similar names where they conduct various types of business.

What do gaming and legal industries have in common? Seemingly, these are two different worlds.

First of all, many lawyers play video games. Secondly, just like in video games, in order to be successful, lawyers have to create good strategies to win cases for their clients. So a good lawyer is somewhat of a gamer. The gaming industry operates globally, and this is also the case for patent attorneys and lawyers dealing with IP rights. We operate in virtually all markets around the world, just like video game manufacturers, so we complement each other nicely. Since JWP has been on the market for a long time, we have contacts and we have gained experience everywhere.

From the very beginning, JWP has been dominated by this feminine element. Both in the case of the team and the partners, women are in the majority. Do you have any thoughts, observations regarding this situation?

Honestly, I think that parity would be the best solution, there has been some research carried out in this respect, I guess. 😉 I must admit that at JWP, unlike in many other organizations, there is an increased focus on an individual, on their needs and emotions. I am not sure whether this is because we have a predominance of women at JWP or because it is a part of the nature of the people managing the firm. Here, if someone has a problem, the company will be more than happy to help, it will go far beyond the employer’s obligations and I could provide many such examples, but obviously these are private matters. In general, you can say that this assistance most often has taken the form of financing various services for people who have found themselves in a difficult life situation or a very flexible approach to working hours or work mode.
If there are situations inside the organization in which someone reacts emotionally, then usually in more ‘masculine’ companies this could be considered unprofessional, and here there is a lot of empathy.
As for the disadvantages that I can see, I think that if there were more men, maybe it would be possible to organize team-building trips more often. 😉

How do you see the future of our industry, what’s there on the horizon?

I see the future of the industry through the prism of AI. For sure, many elements will be automated. The protection of IP rights will also go in this direction. A dozen or so years ago, nobody would have thought of something like, for example, IP protection in the metaverse… The world is accelerating all the time.

And in what direction would you like to go professionally? You seem to have made it to the top, what’s next?

I try not to stand still. My role as a mentor and a contact person for young people helps me a lot. I try to develop soft skills, extend my horizons, learn about new technologies, test novelties, applications, games. All this affects me primarily as a person, but I believe that it also strengthens my professional position. I must admit that the place I’m currently in is good and I feel grateful to my colleagues for the fact that together we have managed to get here, although it was not always an easy path.

Where is JWP today? There have been changes, a few people have left, the structure of the firm has changed…

I hope that now, due to the fact that many things have already changed, we will regain a sense of stability as a team and the initiated changes will turn out to be beneficial. Our assumption was to rebuild the structure and implement new ways of operation to make JWP even more stable and better prepared for new challenges.
On the other hand, changes are often associated with going beyond your comfort zone. If you’ve been doing something in the same way for years, and suddenly the rules change… As with every change, we have to face anxiety, fears, and sometimes even anger or resentment. We have set ourselves the goal that the process of reorganizing the structure of JWP should be as smooth and peaceful as possible. We paid a lot of attention to communication with employees, but it is obvious that some difficulties arose along the way. I often say that only the ones who do nothing make no mistakes. Without changes, there is no growth. Owing to them, we can learn a lot.

Were the changes necessary? Was it an idea for specific changes or the need to change?

We look into the future. Everyone can judge it differently, but in my opinion, it was a real need the satisfaction of which would guarantee stability and growth to JWP for many years to come. We can already see positive effects of the actions taken, including the economic ones. It is always the case that something can be done better, but it can also be done worse. I regret that some people decided to leave JWP, but their decisions were dictated by very different reasons that coincided over time. There are also opposite situations, because employees come back to us after a period of work for other law firms. Sometimes someone wants to become an in-house employee and change their professional perspective, and things like that happen. Our professional community in Poland is not large, probably our paths will cross in various circumstances and configurations. I wish good luck and success to everyone.

Do you have any dreams?

I have a lot of dreams, I am a dreamer kind of person. 😊 I like travelling and setting goals which I accomplish after some time. Currently, my goal is Costa Rica, I would like to visit my very good friend, who runs a unique fusion restaurant in the heart of the jungle.


Thank you for the conversation.



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