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Heather Kliebenstein
Heather Kliebenstein

Breaking the Ice: Champagne dispute rings in trademark focus

Name: Heather Kliebenstein

Title: Partner, Merchant & Gould

Education: B.S. environmental sciences, Iowa State University; J.D., University of Texas School of Law

Merchant & Gould partner Heather Kliebenstein doesn’t associate champagne only with New Year’s Eve toasts.

An early case about a luxury brand of bubbly focused her intellectual property practice on trademark matters.

Kliebenstein also has prosecuted patents and litigated many patent disputes, preparing her for IP cases combining multiple forms of intellectual property.

“So many cases today involve not just a patent but a trade dress, an unfair competition claim, a copyright or a trade secrets claim as well,” said Kliebenstein, who chairs the firm’s litigation practice group.

Experience as an in-house lawyer informs Kliebenstein’s recommendations to business clients and her understanding of their budget concerns.

A grade school assignment — writing a letter to somebody Kliebenstein wanted to be when she grew up — resulted in a handwritten reply on U.S. Supreme Court stationery from newly appointed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. That set Kliebenstein on her path to becoming a lawyer before she knew what one did.

Q: What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A: In person. I like to meet new people and hear their story and learn from their experience.

Q: What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A: I am a magazine person, and Vanity Fair and Vogue are my favorites.

Q: What is a pet peeve of yours?

A: Lack of transparency. I’m a tell-it-as-I-see-it kind of a person and not getting that reciprocally is a pet peeve.

Q: What are your favorite aspects of being an attorney?

A: Constantly something new. Day in and day out you never know what’s going to come up. Especially in the IP area you’re always learning about new technologies, new product development, new brands before the rest of the world does.

Q: Least favorite?

A: Especially in litigation being involved in cases that are life or death for a client, for a company that can be personally stressful, you can take that home at night.

When you’re representing someone that built their business from the ground up and it’s put at risk due to an intellectual property concern, that’s stressful. But oftentimes those are the most interesting cases. It’s blessing and a curse.

Q: What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A: I am a runner. I love to run. Running is my time to be alone so I don’t do races.

Q: If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A: In Minneapolis I would take them to walk or run around the lakes.

Q: Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most?

A: Sandra Day O’Connor. She’s such a trailblazer for women lawyers. She was one of the only women in her law school class. She struggled to get hired even though she was at the top of her class. The amount of extra work she probably had to do to get to where she got and her perseverance are what impress me most about Sandra Day O’Connor. Same for Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Q: What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney?

A: Lawyers are dull and they always say no. When I was little, people told me, “You’re not boring enough to be a lawyer. You’re too cheerful to be a lawyer.”

Q: What is your favorite depiction of the legal professional in popular culture?

A: I loved watching “Allie McBeal.” Calista Flockhart’s character was so different than how women lawyers were being portrayed in, say, “Law & Order” or other very serious legal dramas. She opened up the doors for other women lawyers to be more of themselves at the office. “Legally Blonde” followed right after that. I remember when I started in the practice that there would be comments about that, that women don’t have to be straight-laced and super serious anymore. We have Allie McBeal and Elle Woods showing that they can be persuasive, intelligent lawyers as well.

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