If you’ve seen a Pixar movie in the past decade, chances are you’ve seen Tony Lupo’s work.
Lupo, a partner at Arent Fox in Washington, led a team of intellectual property lawyers that pored over thousands of images of trash from “Wall-E,” scoured the logos of cars from “Cars,” and figured out how “Ratatouille” could show the Eiffel Tower without infringing on the rights of soft drink manufacturers, automakers or the quasi-government French entity that owns the rights to images of the Eiffel Tower at night.
Pixar is one of many leading entertainment companies that Lupo, co-chair of Arent Fox’s intellectual property group, counts as a client. He also advises Warner Bros., the Oprah Winfrey Network, Turner Broadcasting and Discovery Communications and all its channels, including the Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet.
It is rare for a Washington attorney to maintain a bustling entertainment practice that could rival that of a California firm. But Lupo, who’s been at Arent Fox since 1995, has made a career out of breaking the mold of a typical D.C. regulatory lawyer. His specialty, intellectual property, has allowed him to make inroads into the fashion, entertainment and technology industries.
Lupo, 48, began his career at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, representing foreign governments, including Vietnam and Egypt, in amending their intellectual property laws. He has since branched out, and now serves as U.S. in-house counsel for Italian fashion brands Diesel and Benetton Group, best known for its clothing line, United Colors of Benetton. He also represents Hugo Boss, Escada and LaCoste — for which he recently secured a win in California court defending the French apparel company’s right to collect personal information about customers after they buy LaCoste products.
Lupo said he thinks of fashion and entertainment as art, and views his own role as less of a traditional lawyer and more of a link between the artist and the business. To that effect, he said he works with companies on how to enter new markets and develop their brands.
“I’m more of a business consigliere,” he said. “I’m an in-house person. I have a quasi-business role.”
Earlier this month, he took advantage of New York Fashion Week to meet with executives of the European fashion brands he represents.
“You get the owners of companies coming to the U.S., and you can sit down with CEOs without having to go to Paris,” he said.
Lupo is in and out of New York every week, and flies to Los Angeles or San Francisco at least once a month to touch base with entertainment and technology clients that include Apple Inc.
His relationship with Pixar, incidentally, stems from a phone call he got from an Apple lawyer in the 1990s, when Apple was trying to acquire the trademark for iMac from another company. Lupo managed to pull it off, and earned an invitation to meet Steve Jobs — co-founder and then-chief executive of Pixar — at Apple’s annual Macworld expo that year, when the company unveiled its first iMac model. He now represents the computer and media giant on technology issues.
“I got it in a week, and I got it for the right price,” Lupo said. “I got invited to meet him, became his Internet [legal adviser] ... he brought me to Pixar.”
Lupo’s role as an in-house lawyer has moved him into real estate and employment law, but intellectual property remains his bread and butter, making up about a third of his work. His next career move, he said, would be to become an executive rather than jump to another law firm.
But for now, Lupo is having fun in what he calls his dream job, though there remains one client he would love to sign: Armani.