Bruce W. McKee Retirement TributeMarch 14, 2022

On February 28, 2022, Bruce W. McKee officially retired after a long and illustrious career at the law firm that bears his name, McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC. Bruce practiced law for nearly 60 years where he established himself as one of Iowa’s premier intellectual property attorneys. Bruce was born in 1934 and grew up on a farm near Montezuma in Poweshiek County, Iowa. He started at Iowa State University in 1952 and graduated in 1956 with a Bachelors of Science degree in General Engineering. During his time at ISU he was a member of the ROTC. After graduation from Iowa State, he was being recruited by some major companies to come work for them, since they were looking for engineers. At one company, he was standing on the Mezzanine level and looking out over a sea of desks and the person from the company, who was with him stated that if he accepted the position he was interviewing for, he would have one of those desks for his own. At that point he decided that he did not want to be an engineer but instead become a lawyer.

Bruce then joined the USPTO as a Patent Examiner in Washington DC and at night he went to American University to study law, where he graduated in 1959. When he left the Patent Office, he had paid for his law school education and had enough money to buy a car. He also met his wife, Martha, who was an artist and worked for Senator Irving Ives from New York. He then fulfilled a three-year obligation with the Air Force and was a staff judge advocate at the US Air Force Logistics Command in Dayton, Ohio until 1962. During that time, he did some IP work for the Air Force.

After his time in the Air Force, Bruce and Martha thought of moving to California since there was so much opportunity there. Don Zarley, a fraternity brother from Iowa State, contacted him and asked him to come to Des Moines and join him since Don had acquired a law practice that specialized in intellectual property. Bruce decided to stop in Des Moines to see Don on his way to California, and as Bruce said, the rest is history. Bruce stated that Don encouraging him to come to Des Moines was a life changing experience.

In 2001 Don Zarley left the firm and established his own practice with his son. In 2002, the surviving firm officially became McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC.

Bruce, while a patent attorney, would eventually transition to an emphasis on trademarks. He says the reason for the change was that with patent work you may never see the product come to market and the process could be very lengthy. With trademark work, you see the product in use when you are working on a trademark and he found that very satisfying. As part of this transition to an emphasis on trademark work, Bruce joined INTA (International Trademark Association) where he made contact with fellow members from around the world.

In regards to his law firm work, Bruce represented a number of long standing clients e.g., Smart Industries, Orthman Manufacturing, Inc., EMC Insurance Companies and Roto-Mix, LLC, to name a few.

One of Bruce’s clients, Smart Industries (manufacturer of coin operated amusement games), was faced with a patent and trademark violation from a company in Australia who had developed a product similar to the one Smart Industries had developed. Initial efforts by Smart Industries to have the competitor cease and desist were not successful. They contacted Bruce who guided them to a successful conclusion and an agreement that the Australian competitor would stop, and no further legal action was needed.

Another longtime client was Orthman Manufacturing, Inc., who produced a wide range of agriculture, conveyor, energy and logistics products and services, and came to Des Moines to work with Bruce on some patent issues.  Orthman had invented and patented a folding tool bar that  attaches certain agriculture implements  to do tilling, cultivating, fertilizing, etc. Orthman had moved the hydraulics to the inside of the tube in order to protect it from the harsh elements caused by the work the toolbar had to do. It also served the purpose of freeing up space on the toolbar and allowing for additional room to secure the farming implements to it. Orthman learned about a Chicago-based company that was making a duplicate product. Bruce brought in Ed Sease to handle the litigation on this. About the same time, another Illinois company made a major announcement about a product they developed independently without any knowledge of what Orthman and the Chicago-based company had developed. The Chicago-based company backed off of their product and then they agreed to testify on Orthman’s behalf against the Illinois company. Bruce and Ed got a trial victory against the Illinois company who were found to be willful infringers.

“Bruce’s relationship with Henry Orthman began shortly after Henry started Orthman Manufacturing, Inc. in the late 1960’s. In 1967 Bruce filed Henry’s first patent application and for which he received his first patent. In the next 25 years until Henry semi-retired, Bruce filed and Henry received 24 US and 11 foreign patents. He also led the legal team when one of Henry’s patents came to the attention of the major farm equipment manufacturers. He negotiated a license agreement with International Harvester Co., filed infringement suits against Deere and Co and a short line company. The Deere suit was settled before trial, but the second company took it to trial, where they lost and Orthman’s were awarded triple damages. Henry never doubted that Bruce and Ed Sease would prevail. Henry always enjoyed and valued his relationship and friendship with Bruce McKee.” Orthman Manufacturing, Inc.

Bruce has been recognized by The Best Lawyers in America® for the past 12 years. He has been a member of a number of professional associations that include, American Bar Association, American Intellectual Property Law Association, International Trademark Association (INTA), Iowa Intellectual Property Law Association where he served as President from 1977-78, Polk County Bar Association, Iowa State Bar Association – Intellectual Property Law Section Council where he served as chairman from 1998 – 2000, chairman of the Patent, Trademark, and Copyright Council from 1991 – 1993 and chair of the Law and Behavioral Science Committee from 1983 – 1986.

Bruce has two sons, Chris and Anthony and two daughters, Kathleen and Stephanie. Chris followed in his father’s footsteps and he is a patent attorney in Washington D.C. Anthony is a successful businessman here in Iowa with automotive and motor home dealerships. Kathleen holds a graduate degree from the University of Colorado in Boulder and her husband is an attorney. They reside in Fort Collins, Colorado along with Stephanie.

Bruce is passionate about Iowa State football and basketball, and he is a long-time season ticket holder for both sports and almost never misses a game. He was an avid tennis player and generous supporter of Iowa State Women’s Tennis. The Bruce McKee Indoor Tennis Complex is named in his honor for the generous donation he made to build a state-of-the-art tennis facility that is dedicated exclusively to the Iowa State women’s intercollegiate tennis program. In his younger years, Bruce participated in the RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), a non-competitive bicycle ride across the state, organized by the Des Moines Register.

Many of his clients and friends provided the following comments on what their relationship with Bruce has meant to them:

“My favorite story about Bruce is from my father, Ben Neier, who passed away a few years ago.  Back in 1961 my father built and patented the first auger type feed mixer. A few years later he was involved in litigation to defend his patent. The trial and ruling was not favorable to my father and after leaving the courthouse, he commented to his partner, “next time, that guy is going to be on our side.” He was referring to the opposing counsel, which was Bruce McKee.  And Bruce and his firm has handled our IP for the last 50+ years. All of us at Roto-Mix send our best wishes to Bruce on his retirement.” Rod Neier, CEO/CFO, Roto-Mix, LLC

“Congrats on your retirement, Bruce. I’ve always appreciated your practical guidance over the years and ability to think creatively. I hope there are many tennis sessions in your future and wish you all the best in retirement. It has been a pleasure working with you.” Doug Van Zanten, Vice President – Deputy General Counsel, EMC Insurance Companies

“As a lawyer with admiration for Bruce McKee, I would submit the highest professional honor as a lawyer’s lawyer. The definition of a lawyer’s lawyer is the acknowledgment of unique competence, judgment, and Iowa common sense. As a business lawyer, I always requested and received unique intellectual property advice from Bruce for my clients. Bruce and I joined together in support of the Iowa/Israel special relationship and support for Republican candidates and incumbents. His service and his legacy will be enshrined in the record of our legal profession. I wish him enjoyment and success in his retirement.” With respect and admiration, Bud Hockenberg, CEO, Independent Advisors

“It’s been great working with you all these years and just wanted to say “Thanks” for all your help and guidance with our Company and also with me…..You’ve had such a long and successful career. Well done! Enjoy your retirement. By the way, if you going to take up deer hunting during your retirement, I’ve got a product that will get you close to them…..ha ha…..” Mike Parnell, President, Camo Dust Inc.

“I have never gotten to meet you in person. I guess that is the tragedy of computers and the internet. But I wanted to let you know that I always enjoyed speaking with you about not only our business at hand but hearing what you are doing in your life. You are knowledgeable and great to talk with.  If you said do it this way or that way, I just trusted you. Period. You have continued to work well beyond almost anyone I know and I find that encouraging. You have a very calm cadence to your voice, and that coupled with your knowledge of trademarks always gave me comfort. You are an inspiring and outstanding person and I wish you the very best. Thanks for your service to Thombert over the years. God Bless you on your retirement. Hit the tennis ball hard.” Reggie Collette, Director – Sales & Marketing, Thombert

“I met Bruce in the late 90’s, and, have had the privilege and honor to work closely with Bruce for the last 12 years. His attention to the needs of the company were always superb and I cannot remember him ever missing a beat. In addition to the working relationship I shared with Bruce, I was glad to share many other great discussions, and, whenever we were together, his company. Enough cannot be said about his mannerisms and courtesy. Bruce exemplifies what it is to be a gentleman. I am lucky to know him.” Jim Dupree, VP, Smart Industries Corp.

“It has been my pleasure to work with Bruce for the past 20 years. I had never worked in the patent, trademark, and registration realm previously, and Bruce was a wonderful, kind, and patient teacher. I have learned so very much from him. Our company, LBS, has benefited from Bruce’s knowledge and personally, I have benefited from Bruce’s friendship. I wish Bruce many more years of good health and happiness! Congratulations on your retirement!” Chris Paxson, Employee Owner, Sr. Vice President, Corporate Development & Culture, LBS

“I first encountered Bruce in my early training days as a trademark practitioner.  His assistance and detailed advice was a great help to me in my learning process and in advising my clients on the trademark process in the USA. Thank you Bruce and I hope your retirement is the start of something wonderful!” Waheeda Shreef, Director, Fairbridges, Wertheim, Becker

There is so much more to talk about in his nearly 60 years at the firm but his impact on the firm and his legacy will live on forever.

Congratulations Bruce on your retirement.

Richard Marsolais is the Business Development Director at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC. To learn more, visit our MVS website , or contact Richard directly via email.

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