“For me, what’s interesting is that the technology far outpaces the law, and it requires flexibility and forethought and risk tolerance. You’re trying to draft something or create a deal today that’s going to hold up in the future."
There’s a concept in the electronics industry called “future-proofing” – the challenge of designing a product that will hold up even as technology improves.
It’s something Jordan Walbesser ’10 thinks about, too, in his work as in-house counsel for Mattel Inc., the toy industry giant.
“For me, what’s interesting is that the technology far outpaces the law, and it requires flexibility and forethought and risk tolerance,” he says. “You’re trying to draft something or create a deal today that’s going to hold up in the future. And so it’s really important for an attorney like myself to be on the bleeding edge of what’s happening in technology. It really does a disservice to your client if you’re not aware of what’s going to happen in the next five to 10 years.”
“There was an option to create your own path, to study the things you wanted to study. I chose corporate law and IP law and how those intersect, and it was good that I was able to do that, because now I’m doing that every day.”
As an example, he cites a deal made back in the 1990s addressing what would happen if a certain property was broadcast. But, of course, definitions change: “Fast-forward 20 years and we have YouTube – is that a broadcast? Is that covered under the agreement?”
Walbesser’s undergraduate degree from UB is in computer engineering, and he says he went to law school intending to become a patent attorney. “It’s something I always wanted to do,” he says. “I’m passionate about both technology and law, and how they intersect.”
After graduating from UB School of Law, he worked for seven years at a major Buffalo law firm, doing intellectual property and start-up counseling. Now, working out of Mattel’s Fisher-Price subsidiary in East Aurora, N.Y., Walbesser is part of a worldwide in-house counsel group. His particular niche is emerging technologies, such as software and new media, and he deals with everyone from established companies to indie inventors, drafting the contracts involved in creating these strategic partnerships, among other complex legal tasks.
“A part of being successful at this job is looking at these issues holistically,” he says. “There are plenty of cases where our standard form isn’t going to work because this is something completely new.”
“I joke with friends that I’m a toy lawyer. A video games and monster truck attorney,” he says. There are serious issues involved, though, especially around protecting the privacy of Mattel’s young customers. But there’s excitement about the possibilities as well, such as the Mattel’s recent partnership with a company that teaches coding and introduces programming to young women. “It’s a really neat opportunity to work with them and use both our brand and star power, along with their reach educationally, to make a positive impact,” he says.
Walbesser also is active in Western New York’s start-up business community. “I have an entrepreneurial streak and have been involved with quite a few start-ups,” he says, mostly in the tech arena.
That passion bore fruit in 2018 when Walbesser, with his friend Clark Dever, won Buffalo’s inaugural Civic Innovation Challenge, which challenged entrants to design a phone-based app that uses openly available data in a way that benefits the public. Walbesser and Dever’s app – called Good Neighbor, after Buffalo’s “City of Good Neighbors” motto – gives citizens one-touch access to information about services offered by the city, county, state and nonprofits. Need to know where the nearest police or fire station is? The nearest food pantry? Good Neighbor can tell you. And with Google Translate built in, it’s especially useful for Buffalo’s burgeoning immigrant population.
His UB School of Law experience, Walbesser says, has been the key to a career working with these emerging technologies. “There was an option to create your own path, to study the things you wanted to study,” he says. “I chose corporate law and IP law and how those intersect, and it was good that I was able to do that, because now I’m doing that every day.”