“I want to create something amazing” isn’t a phrase that one expects to hear from an equity partner in an IP firm approaching his fiftieth birthday. But David Keltie loathed the idea of accumulating money simply to retire. His motto was that the older you get, the more risks you should take.
So it was that David found himself at Barclays bank explaining his dream to start a new kind of firm. A firm in which everyone could grow as people, working together as equals and communicating without fear. Luckily, David had met a friend a few days beforehand, who observed that his dream was very touching but, to be frank, some kind of business plan wouldn’t go amiss either…
With the plan hastily written and funding agreed (a decision the bank manager confided later was his ‘punt of the year’), David Keltie Associates opened for business in December 1988. The unconventional new firm reflected its founder’s singular background.
David was born in the Wairarapa region of New Zealand in 1938, the son of a chiropractor. Ever-active, he enjoyed sports at school and always proud of his Scottish ancestry, he played bagpipes in the school’s pipe band. He also learned the school’s Māori haka, which he performed in later life to devastating effect before his firm’s softball matches. Given the legendary brevity of his running shorts, the effect was at least as frightening for his own team as for the opposition.
Building on his father’s profession, David opted for a career in physiotherapy. He remained dual-qualified as a Chartered Physiotherapist, probably uniquely in the IP world. He no longer practiced officially, but treatments on request were one of the more unusual perks of working with him.
In his early twenties, Kiwi wanderlust led David to set his sights on the US. On the way, he planned to break the journey and stay for a while in London, where he arrived by ship after a voyage of several weeks. Luckily for us, David loved London too much to leave and so his journey ended here.
Developing his interest in medicine, David took exams for entry into medical school while he practiced as a physiotherapist. Then fate intervened one day while he chatted to a young lady he was treating. She told him that her boyfriend was a technical assistant in a firm of patent agents. “What’s one of those?” asked David. And that was that.
By now married and with a young family, it was characteristically brave of David to swap careers and to start again. But with the rampant enthusiasm he showed all his life, he persuaded Page White & Farrer to give him a try – and then quickly made himself indispensable. After a while he moved to Haseltine Lake, where he so impressed a client with the battle cry “Gentlemen: let’s fight the buggers!” that the client stayed with him ever since.
Later, David moved to Baron & Warren, where he rose to become an equity partner. There, he travelled widely to grow the firm’s international network and developed a lifelong affection for Japan. In later years, this culminated in David studying Japanese, to the extent that he could deliver a speech at a friend’s wedding that he had written by hand in Japanese characters on the flight to Tokyo.
David also loved marketing at home, where he particularly enjoyed getting to know young solicitors. They were more fun to drink with than their older colleagues and would be leaders in the IP world themselves before long.
Taking special pride in the quality of his patent drafting, David fondly described the “yesss!” he felt when a claim was just right. He thrived on deal-making but when that wasn’t possible, he lived and breathed the case in litigation. He drafted patents that survived scrutiny right up to the Court of Appeal.
It was at Baron & Warren that David developed a parallel interest in trade marks and became a highly-skilled and respected trade mark attorney. His then trade mark assistant Rosemary Cardas moved with him to co-found David Keltie Associates, in which she later became one of David’s first partners.
David spoke warmly of the experience he had gained in his previous firms, and of the many fine people he had worked with down the years. Although he was destined to be a pioneer, he remained a champion of old-school qualities. He always honoured the training he had received from some of the greats of our profession.
But now it was time to move on and to bring his dream to life. So David surrounded himself with everything the new firm needed to be successful, and proceeded to blaze a trail.
His new environment liberated and amplified David’s extraordinary qualities. Few will ever forget having met him in his pomp. Possessed of the most all-consuming laugh in Christendom, he had child-like exuberance coupled with rock-solid professionalism and a gargantuan appetite for hard work.
Taking his Kiwi background as a licence to speak his mind, David was a passionate advocate who revelled in deflating pomposity – even if there was an endearing risk of foot-in-mouth from time to time. Eventually he learned to respect the perils of the ‘reply to all’ button.
It was the greatest joy of David’s career that his creation took on a life of its own and began to snowball as like-minded people were attracted to it. He loved to nurture assistants and gave a voice to everyone in the firm, ensuring that there was no ‘them’ – only one ‘us’. As soon as he could, he awarded equal partnerships with equal votes; at his insistence, the firm never had a senior partner.
Reflecting the firm’s growth and diversity, David Keltie Associates rebranded to become Keltie in 2005. David was delighted that the newly-named firm won a Queen’s Award for its export performance but he took special satisfaction in its successive high rankings among the Sunday Times’ Best Companies to Work For.
The most coveted award, though, was in David’s sole gift. It was the Elephant Stamp, which David hand-printed onto the firm’s letterhead like a merit mark at school. He awarded them for a variety of personal achievements, like getting qualified, having a baby or doing an exceptionally good piece of work. A few were even awarded externally, including at least one that adorns a desk at the UK Intellectual Property Office. The Elephant Stamp lives on in the name of Keltie’s in-house café.
David dealt with the ageing process by battering it into submission, running marathons in his fifties, scaling mountains in his sixties – he reached Everest Base Camp and summited Kilimanjaro – and continuing to cycle into his mid-seventies. His fitness and character helped him to put up an incredible fight against his long final illness and gave us precious time with him among us. In a very real sense, he still is.
David passed away peacefully in a hospice on 6 January 2016. In our loss, we think especially of David’s wife Eileen, who gave him the loving companionship and happiness he sought all his life. We also mourn with David’s three sons from his previous marriage, Chris, John and Richard, with his grandchildren and stepchildren, and with his sisters Naomi and Annette.
Blessed with inspirational charisma, David radiated love, generosity, encouragement and compassion to colleagues, clients and associates around the world. Somehow he found time to get to know not just the people he worked with but also their families and friends. We know from a deluge of tributes that David was loved dearly by so many people in return, who mourn him with profound gratitude for the difference he made to their lives. They carry the torch, not just in the firm that bears his name but also in their hearts.
An amazing life. An amazing man.
With love always, the Keltie partnership
In his final weeks, David was cared for at the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead, London. Donations in David’s memory will help the Hospice to continue its wonderful work.