Tom Fistek has always been able to handle whatever’s thrown at him. Throughout his career—from his time as an engineer at Ford to navigating the complexities of intellectual property law at CONMED Corporation, where he’s the chief IP counsel—he’s leveraged both his adaptability and passion for problem-solving to succeed.
“I’m kind of a Swiss Army knife,” he says. “Whatever the objective is, I’ll take the time to figure out a solution. That’s been the common theme throughout my career.”
After graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in mechanical engineering, Fistek began his career as a quality engineer at Ford. The plant where he worked, which built large panel vans, was a training ground for communicating with individuals at every level of an organization.
“Understanding the dynamics in the manufacturing plant helped me learn to relate to people better. I use that skill frequently in my practice,” he says. “As a young engineer, developing trust with the workers in the plant and the engineering team was critical to my success. I learned to tailor my communications to my audience in order to build that trust.”
While he thought it was interesting to see the vans getting built and learn about the dynamics of a plant, Fistek knew he ultimately wanted a career in law. In college, he interned at a law firm, helping with litigation, document review, and research—experiences that stuck with him and eventually inspired him to go to Cleveland State University to get his JD.
Fistek’s first job after law school was at Renner, Otto, Boiselle & Sklar, where he got experience as a law clerk before becoming an associate, working on patent preparation and prosecution, patent clearance and investigation, litigation, and trademarks. He loved the strategic mindset that the variety of work required but he wanted to work more closely with the business.
After nine years at the firm, Fistek went in-house at Parker Hannifin as senior counsel IP supporting the climate and industrial controls group and the instrumentation group. He enjoyed learning about and understanding the company’s vision while helping it accomplish its goals. The key to a smooth transition in-house, Fistek says, was asking a lot of questions, listening, and observing his colleagues—habits he continues to use in his current role.
“Keeping that mentality has helped me along the way because you have to understand the technology and the business model in order to know what IP to protect and the strategy for protecting it,” he explains.
He went on to serve as an assistant general counsel of IP, adding the company’s aerospace group, corporate trademarks, and LATAM group to his responsibilities. In that role, he continued to work with business and engineering leaders to develop strategic IP portfolios while managing third-party IP risks. That role not only made him a more versatile attorney, Fistek says, it also helped him build on the communication skills he developed earlier in his career.
“It is important to build trust with the people I’m working with,” he says. “To be able to speak in a way that everyone can understand, I’ve learned to adapt my communications to the audience, from the C-suite to the engineers, because each audience has different objectives and needs. Being able to explain things in a way everyone can understand has been pretty important.”
That’s what he continues to do today at CONMED as a member of the company’s legal leadership team. He manages its patent and trademark portfolios and develops and implements complex IP strategies for cutting-edge medical device technologies. In addition, Fistek leads company efforts on several fronts, including patent harvesting, preparation and prosecution, and trademark clearance.
“It’s fascinating to see how the devices we make help people,” he says. “In the industrial space it’s more business to business, but these products directly impact how medical care is provided, and that has a direct impact on people’s livelihoods.”
Over the last year, in addition to helping the company complete two acquisitions, he’s picked up international work and been given more opportunities to stretch himself as an attorney.
“I have to figure out how to support the whole business now and it’s not just the IP side of things,” Fistek notes. “It’s generalist type work, and my adaptability has allowed me to quickly learn the medical device space in order to handle these new areas of law.”
Moving forward, he wants to build out CONMED’s IP function and make sure the company is using IP effectively and continue to expand his capabilities.
“That’s part of the reason why I came here,” he says. “I want to make sure IP continues to be a focus so that we’re developing and acquiring IP that’s meaningful to the company while continuing to stretch myself as an attorney.”
“Locke Lord congratulates Tom Fistek on this well-deserved recognition. Tom’s technical expertise, strategic focus and keen understanding of intellectual property law on a global basis make him an invaluable asset to CONMED.”
–Scott D. Wofsy, Partner