Detroit attorney puts her stamp on trademark law

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LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY ROBERT CHASE

by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Marjorie Basile once dreamed of being a flight attendant. Now she’s petrified of flying, although at times taking to the skies is unavoidable.

So it’s just as well she chose to fly high in a legal career instead.

Basile’s career with Miller Canfield in Detroit has spanned more than three decades. One of the firm’s first women partners, she helped start Miller Canfield’s Intellectual Property Practice Group 18 years ago and led the group until 2006.

She has been listed among the Best Lawyers in America, Intellectual Property Law, since 2007; Top 50 Women Michigan Super Lawyers 2007-09; and has received many other honors.

Miller Canfield was her first and only choice.

“In the course of all my interviews, Miller Canfield stood out as a firm whose hallmark is diversity,” she says. “I picked up on it immediately – and this is back in the late 1970s when the firm wasn’t nearly as diverse and eclectic as it is today – and my instincts proved correct throughout the 30 some years I’ve been here.

“There’s a richness to that atmosphere that breeds creativity, curiosity, and collegiality, all designed to motivate attorneys to excel.”

Law was in her genes, as the daughter of an attorney in Mt. Pleasant, and the second of six children, three of whom are lawyers. “Our father was an attorney who lived and breathed the law. He was still going to his office at age 92,” she says. “He was a role model for civility and decorum in the practice. He made no bones about it.”

Her father’s passion for law rubbed off. One rainy week in 1953, she came upon transcripts of a trial her father had the previous year, stashed away in basement shadows.

“I hauled them out and read cover to cover about a wrongful death that occurred on a Ferris wheel during the annual county fair,” she says. “I was hooked...  I particularly marveled at the crossexamination process.”

But her first career step was a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Detroit’s Marygrove College. “I love to write and couldn’t imagine a ‘more fun’ major in college,” she says. “However, after graduation I faced a harsh reality in the job market and I [taught] English and [was] faculty adviser for the yearbook and newspaper.

“As with everything else I’ve done, I ended up loving it. The energy of teenagers is a phenomenon that happens only in those brief years.”

Basile went on to earn her J.D. summa cum laude from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

“I had top-notch professors,” she says. “The school had a unique combination of social conscience and nuts and bolts training on the abstract thought process, a/k/a legal thinking. Often you don’t find the two together.”

A Charter Fellow of the Litigation Council of America, Basile has extensive expertise in trademark procurement and trademark infringement litigation, and has obtained a significant docket of registered trademarks for clients. She also has considerable experience in copyright matters and patent licensing and is admitted to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

“My trademark practice is a joy from a time management perspective,” she says. “The deadlines are long so one can be very organized and in control of such a practice.

“In contrast, a litigation practice is almost always out of control in that no matter how much effort you spend organizing and strategizing, the game plan changes often and without much notice so you are on your toes with adrenalin flowing all the time. It can be exhausting, but exhilarating. I love it.

“Litigation is also full of very humorous moments... Trademark practice is rarely humorous or unpredictable.”

Basile was instrumental in helping Faygo Beverages secure branding rights in its Ohana non-carbonated drink line. She had to assure that the name had widespread appeal, and stood apart from other beverages. Basile did her homework, and found that “Ohana” is a Hawaiian word for “family,” making it a good brand name for this tropical beverage that went on to become a successful product line for Faygo.

“I’ve had my share of ‘notorious’ trademarks – Jenny Craig, 747, Faygo – but much of my docket is just ordinary small businesses or larger portfolios of automotive supplier marks – not too sexy!
“The trade-off is that the clients are smart, creative, and fully of energy about their businesses. There are very few ‘downers’ in the trademark practice.”

Basile, who has authored several articles and given presentations in the United States and Canada, served on the Qualifications Review Committee for the Federal Eastern District of Michigan in 2001; is a member of the Alumni Association for the Detroit Regional Chamber, Detroit Leadership VIII, and  of the Founders’ Society of The Detroit Institute of Arts; and serves on a committee for the Visiting Nurse Association.

Since 2002 she has been in the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society. “Mostly I enjoy the chance to visit with some of the legends of the local legal scene,” she says.

For the past 12 years, she has volunteered with the American Bar Association, serving in section leadership as well as the House of Delegates.

“My most rewarding involvements have been as a presidential appointee to two standing committees: Prepaid Legal Plan Services and Delivery of Legal Services,” she says. “These focus on legal services for people with moderate incomes, a group that’s vastly underserved.”

Basile also enjoys sharing her expertise with the next generation of attorneys. “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and implementing ways that people like me can make valuable... contributions to the firms with whom we have been associated for so long,” she says. “Mentoring the younger attorneys is one of the more important endeavors and, for me, one of the more enjoyable ones.”

Basile and her husband are two years shy of a golden anniversary, and have three children and eight grandchildren.

“A huge part of my life centers around them,” she says. “Although I feel I’ve been uncommonly blessed in both my professional and personal lives, I would not have the professional life I’ve had without the complete support of my husband and children.”

Basile is a “huge fan” of the Detroit area, and the city itself.

“I can’t imagine working anywhere but downtown Detroit,” she says. “The river is the prettiest urban river in the entire country, bar none.

“I hate it when winter sets in and I can’t walk around so easily on my lunch hour to check out what’s going on.”

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