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Jason Groppe applied to law school looking for a challenge. An amateur boxer for many years, he saw parallels between the ring and the courtroom.
“I loved the competition and the adversarial aspect of boxing,” Groppe explains. “That’s also what drew me to law.”
More than a decade later, Groppe is assistant general counsel of global intellectual property (IP) enforcement and investigations for the Americas as well as chief privacy officer for North America at Luxottica. As a designer, manufacturer, and distributor of some of the world’s most recognizable eyewear brands, Luxottica faces significant challenges from counterfeiters that Groppe works diligently to identify and address. In the process, he leverages his years of legal expertise––and a strong personal belief in the products that he defends.
Before joining Luxottica in 2014, Groppe built up his litigation experience at Blank Rome LLP. He was a clerk at the law firm while in undergraduate school at the University of Cincinnati and continued in this role while in law school at Northern Kentucky University, then stayed on as an associate after completing his degree. During his eleven years at Blank Rome, he developed a specialization in class action defense that paved the way for his move in-house.
“Luxottica was looking for someone with a class action defense background, and I fit the bill,” Groppe says of his recruitment to the company. But the opportunity also happened to align with his own interests within the litigation space: case strategy and case management.
Coming on board as a defense litigation counsel, Groppe adapted quickly: he’d worked with external clients in private practice, whereas he needed to deal with internal clients at Luxottica. Fortunately, he found that much of his past experience translated well to corporate life. “There was definitely a learning curve, but a lot of the same principles apply at a law firm and in-house,” he explains. “My understanding of how litigation works proved to be super helpful.”
Although he started out handling Luxottica’s defense litigation, Groppe soon took on a wider range of responsibilities. In particular, he began overseeing the company’s brand enforcement efforts––an area that, along with privacy and internal and external investigations, ultimately became his primary focus.
From the get-go, Groppe fully appreciated the gravity of IP infringement. “A company is only as strong as its brands,” he says. “My job is to do whatever I can to protect our brands by enforcing our rights.”
To enforce those rights, Groppe must first determine where counterfeiting or other forms of infringement are occurring. “We have a very sophisticated process for identifying counterfeit products online,” he says. “From an offline perspective, it comes down to being out and about and having boots on the ground throughout the country.”
Groppe relies on a combination of surveys, employee tips, and private investigators located throughout the country to locate possible counterfeiting operations. As much as he hopes to find no evidence of such activity, he’s ready to spring into action if an investigator confirms an operation through undercover buys. At that point, Groppe decides on the most effective and impactful way to initiate enforcement, either through criminal or civil actions.
For Groppe, taking down counterfeiters is about more than winning a case. He feels strongly about protecting not only Luxottica’s brands from infringement but also consumers from unregulated––and potentially hazardous––products. That’s why he’s proud to have dismantled a major operation at a flea market in Atlanta, Georgia. Vendors at the market were selling large quantities of knockoff Ray-Ban and Oakley eyewear, but the landlord refused to intervene even when put on repeat notice by Luxottica.
“We ultimately had to file a civil litigation against them for contributory trademark infringement. The case went to trial, and the jury ruled in our favor and awarded us $1.9 million in damages,” Groppe says. “That was definitely a high point in my career.”
Despite having a huge victory for the company and its consumers under his belt, Groppe remains determined to do better. “I always tell my team that it’s a matter of learning from our results each year and seeing what we can do to grow, professionally and personally. We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve by understanding where we have room for improvement,” he says. Moving forward, he hopes to continue building up IP enforcement, investigations, and privacy at Luxottica into best-in-class functions.
Whether navigating federal and state privacy laws or strategizing about IP, Groppe knows the secret to staying engaged in and fulfilled by his work: genuine admiration for Luxottica and its brands. That admiration allows him to recognize the importance of what he does, especially on the IP front, and he advises other IP attorneys to search for the same feeling if they want to find success.
“You have to believe in your brands and the company you work for, and I absolutely 100 percent do,” Groppe says. “I’m extremely protective of our brands because of how much I respect them and the passion that Luxottica has for its products, employees, and customers.”