In "A Patent Lie," by Paul Goldstein, forty-seven year old attorney Michael Seeley is a solo practitioner in his hometown of Buffalo, New York. He has a part-time receptionist, his office is a dump, and he handles "nickel and dime cases." On a chilly autumn day, his younger brother, Leonard, whom he hasn't seen in nine years, stops by to see him. Since Leonard lives in San Francisco, where he works as the chief medical officer for a small biotech company, this is not a casual visit. For weeks, Leonard has been leaving Michael frantic messages. It seems that Leonard's employer, Vaxtek, has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against a giant Swiss drug producer, St. Gall. The trial is scheduled to begin in three weeks, and Robert Pearsall, Vaxtek's lead attorney, has suddenly died, an apparent suicide. Leonard wants his brother to take over this important case, since the company's financial health and his own portfolio could be seriously affected by the result of the litigation.
Michael has problems of his own. Before moving back to Buffalo, he was employed by a New York corporate law firm, and although he won his share of cases, he was not happy. Lonely and deeply depressed, he found refuge in drinking, and eventually descended into alcoholism. He barely escaped disbarment, and is now staying sober one day at a time. Why risk what he has fought so hard to achieve by getting involved in a high-profile and potentially stressful trial? In addition, Michael has no desire to reconnect with Leonard, since seeing him inevitably brings back horrible memories of the two young boys cowering in fear while their drunken bully of a father stormed through the house. When he was only fifteen, Michael left home for good, and he has no desire to revisit the past or bond with what is left of his family. He cares about Leonard, but does not trust his brother, who "never stopped manipulating people and events to get what he wanted." Against his better judgment, Michael agrees to fly out to San Francisco and try the case with the assistance of a team that includes a young attorney named Chris Palmieri. Soon, however, he notices some anomalies that trouble him. He begins to suspect that the lawyers and administrators who work for Vaxtek and St. Gall may be concealing vital information. Michael eventually comes to regret his decision to leave his sleepy little practice back east in Buffalo.
"A Patent Lie" is an intelligent legal thriller with a colorful cast: Michael is a crafty lawyer with sharp instincts; this case will test not only his professional ability but also his idealism, tenacity, and courage. Thirty-six year old Lily Warren is a vaccine researcher and former colleague of the supposed inventor of the AIDS vaccine, the pompous and obnoxious Alan Steinhardt. Seely is attracted to the brilliant and beautiful Warren, but he senses that she is withholding critical facts that could affect the trial's outcome. Judy, Robert Pearsall's distraught wife, is convinced that her husband was murdered, and she urges Michael to look into the circumstances surrounding his death. District Judge Ellen Farnsworth is a no-nonsense type; she has little patience with anyone who tries to cross her. Joel Warshaw, the owner of Vaxkek, is a wily and venal entrepreneur who buys and sells companies for profit. After meeting him, Seely is convinced that the amoral Warshaw would sink to any depths in order to enrich himself.
This is an engrossing and complex courtroom drama that requires close concentration, since there are intricate scientific and legal issues at stake. Seely is no fool, and after bringing himself up to speed and interviewing Judy Pearsall and Lily Warren, he realizes that he may be missing the forest for the trees. Something does not compute, and Michael is determined to find out what it is. Both he and Lily must decide whether to play along with what may be corporate malfeasance or risk their reputations and lives opposing a group of powerful and ruthless men. This is your classic David vs. Goliath story and it is well told. For the most part, the author avoids phony theatrics and formulaic plot devices. The courtroom scenes are instructive and absorbing, and Goldstein wraps up his narrative satisfyingly. "A Patent Lie" will appeal to audiences of legal thrillers that rely on ideas and personalities rather than silly twists and turns, mindless violence, and steamy sex scenes. Goldstein does not go for the glitz, but instead focuses on what happens when clever lawyers and those who employ them act selfishly and callously, ignoring the needs of those who are unable to stand up for themselves.