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21 Tech Master

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  • | 6:00 p.m. September 19, 2003
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Tech Master

From computer geek to law hacker, Andrew Greenberg isn't a typical attorney.

By Hali White

Legal Affairs Editor

It doesn't make good cocktail party conversation. Andrew Greenberg has a long answer to the seemingly simple question, "Why did you choose the law?"

Greenberg, who founded Carlton Fields' intellectual property department, took a winding road to a career in law. It's a story about changing passions. And it's a story the self-described tech geek likes to tell.

It seems that in Greenberg's college days, he briefly considered a career in the law. After all, Dad was an attorney. But young Greenberg had a gift for all things technical, so he enrolled in Cornell University's College of Engineering where he earned a bachelor's degree in operations, research and engineering in 1979. While still a student, Greenberg saw an article in Popular Electronics about a kit to build a personal computer.

"This was fun because in those days a computer was a multi-million dollar thing that lived behind glass in some large building," Greenberg says. "Universities would have two computers and you'd shoot people to get in line to use one. The idea of a computer on your desk was extraordinary."

Greenberg built that kit computer, whose main claim to fame seemed to be an ability to make lights blink. And he loved it.

"You were so impressed at how you could make the lights blink and enjoy it," he says fondly. Accordingly, Greenberg was near the front of the line when the first Apple computers were sold.

Meanwhile, he worked as the administrator of Cornell's computer-based education system. As administrator, he enforced the university's no gaming policy. (University officials forbade students from gaming on the network - for fear that trustees would yank funding if they found the system was used for frivolity.) He had to work particularly hard to discourage one student, Robert Woodhead, from trying to circumvent his safety and privacy codes.

That troublemaker would eventually be his partner.

"(Robert) was stunned to find that this ogre Greenberg, who didn't let people play games, was in fact writing one of his own," Greenberg says. In fact, Greenberg's work in progress, Wizardry, a fantasy game in the genre of Dungeons & Dragons, was already a hit with fellow students, who played it on Greenberg's computer.

Woodhead wanted to market a computer game and eventually the two paired to sell Wizardry, which hit the market in late 1981.

"We got together in the days when software companies were stapling business cards on top of baggies with a little disk inside," Greenberg says.

The rest of the country responded to the game with the same enthusiasm as the kids from Cornell.

"It was a remarkably well received product," Greenberg says. "We did incredibly well because the industry was exploding. Every time you cut a check it was bigger by a large percentage than the last one."

Wizardry, which now has eight editions, sold millions of copies at $50 each. Greenberg won't discuss profit other than to say he did very well.

The game still has a huge cult following. A fan on ("news for nerds," the site claims) writes, "I may very well owe my geekdom to Wizardry (I). It was the first game I ever played on my friend's Apple II. I can remember plenty of floppy disk switching and punching holes to make single sided disks double sided."

In 1986, Greenberg came to Florida and founded a company called Master Play Corp. and launched a game called Star Saga, which he says met critical acclaim. However, the game, which moderated a communal story telling between a group of players, was not a commercial success. It was up against a game, id, which hit the shelves at the same time. Id was the first "seriously viable first-person shooter game," according to Greenberg.

"Two guys came out of Texas with a game that was so powerful, so visually hot, so exciting, and so visually powerful and that could use a network, that people didn't care that there wasn't much game there," he says.

Fortunately, Greenberg says, he found a buyer for his own game - "a greater fool who liked our product more than we did and thought he could do well." He sold Star Saga at about the same time that he determined he didn't want to be involved with the writing of Wizardry VIII. The powers that be wanted more graphics and pizzazz for later editions. He was more interested in storytelling.

"Frankly my skills were in game design," he says. "I could build great technology but there was little in that that rewarded me."

At loose ends for once, Greenberg seriously assessed his situation, considering an area that interested him.

"I was always fascinated in copyrights and what was happening there," he says. "Too many of my colleagues found themselves getting stolen from, or stealing from, simply because they didn't have adequate measures to protect their assets or they took the wrong measures."

Greenberg envisioned himself as a lawyer who could act as a translator between his fellow geeks, whose language he already spoke, and lawyers, whose language he would learn to speak.

So decided, Greenberg enrolled at Stetson, which he say is the best law school within a hundred miles of his mortgage. There he met adjunct professor Reece Smith, the man behind Tampa's Carlton Fields law firm.

"He gave a speech that I will remember for the rest of my life," Greenberg says. "He talked about what it was to be a lawyer - made me love it in way that even my dad didn't make me respect the profession."

Greenberg followed Smith to Carlton Fields, where he was given the freedom to create the firm's intellectual property department.

"As a young associate, I was more an entrepreneur than in my later years as an entrepreneur," he says. "I was able to create a practice where one did not exist, and at the same time be able to bring to technology law what I offered as a technologist."

Greenberg, who represents small business owners as well as Fortune 500 companies, lets the economy determine his practice. When the market is flush and deals are being made, people want him to draft patent applications. When times are tough and they want to protect their assets, off to court he goes. One year, he says, he drafted 100 patent applications. This year he's only done about five. However, he reports a renewed interest in patents and transactional work, a sure sign to him that the economy is improving.

In his free time, Greenberg lobbies for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, which submits briefs to the Supreme Court on landmark intellectual property litigation.

"It gets me excited," Greenberg says. "How can you not get thrilled at the idea of how we can govern society so we can make sure people are not able to get a free ride off of the fruits of your creative juices, but also allow the next generation to take what you've done and be able to create - and still have it work together fairly, equitably, responsibly and predictably so that people are not guessing and playing games?

"The idea is not to have litigation. The idea is to have a law so clear that we can deal with things."

Ask a simple question.


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