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Friday, Mar 24, 2023

Unlikely Air Traffic Controller

Aimee Weisner was setting the strategy that led to Edwards Lifesciences Corp.’s $1 billion-plus patent lawsuit settlement against rival Medtronic Inc.

“My role was air traffic control,” said Weisner, corporate vice president and general counsel of the Irvine-based heart valve and critical- care device maker.

Edwards announced its settlement with Medtronic in May. The company and its Minneapolis-based rival had been entangled for several years in litigation claiming that Medtronic’s CoreValve transcatheter replacement heart valve infringed upon Edwards’ patent for the Edwards Sapien valve.

Medtronic is paying Edwards a one-time sum of $750 million and royalties of no less than $40 million yearly through April 2022. Edwards and Medtronic also dismissed all of their legal matters and agreed not to sue each other over transcatheter heart valves for eight years.

Weisner was one of five lawyers honored Sept. 23 at the Business Journal’s fifth annual General Counsel Awards held at Hotel Irvine (see related stories on pages 4, 5, 6 and 8). She won the award for outstanding general counsel for a public company.

Start at Edwards

Weisner joined Edwards in 2011, shortly after the device maker and Medtronic’s patent battles started to heat up.

“Not a litigator or patent attorney herself, she was immediately thrust into making strategic decisions in litigation and patent office proceedings, at times totaling more than 15 actions worldwide,” said Catherine Nyarady, a partner in the New York office of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, in a letter nominating Weisner for the honor.

Weisner “entered the arena while the [first patent trial] was on appeal,” Nyarady said. “Strategically, in my view, this is the most challenging time to enter the case. For a weaker [general counsel], this may seem a time to ‘play it safe’ politically within the organization. But this is not Aimee’s way. She dug in quickly and oversaw not only the case on appeal but the entire docket.”

Weisner said she took on the “air traffic control” role to ensure that Edwards’ legal strategy was “aligned perfectly with our business strategy.”

“We want to win in the market on our technology, not based on lawyers,” she said.

Leading the settlement team was a different experience for Weisner, whose background is in transactional law rather than patent law.

She said that she leaned on her team, including Keith Newberry, who is the device maker’s head of patent litigation and also an award nominee.

Weisner mentioned that Edwards’ executives were heavily involved in the case strategy, including Chief Executive Michael Mussallem and Larry Wood, corporate vice president for transcatheter heart valves.

“Mike was very involved in the strategy. Larry was deeply involved—he is the primary witness in our patent infringement cases,” Weisner said.

Mussallem’s Letter

Mussallem described Weisner’s role at Edwards in a nomination letter for the award:

“Aimee is a trusted advisor and business partner to me, our entire executive leadership team and board of directors,” Mussallem said. “She has established and fostered a legal department that works with these constituents to move the business forward.”

Mussallem also alluded to another aspect of Weisner’s role at Edwards:

“In our company, when someone advises to ‘go ask legal,’ there is not the stereotypical fear that the automatic answer is ‘no.’ Aimee has instilled a culture that thrives on trusted partnerships and the creation of value company-wide.”

The letter mentioned Weisner’s establishment of an organizational structure and development programs for her team.

“In particular, she has created ‘Legal Delegate’ positions to improve the businesses’ access to the legal department, reprioritized the legal department’s activities to enhance opportunities for personal and professional development, and established a career ladder for professional staff,” Mussallem said.

Past Work

Weisner was previously executive vice president, administration, and secretary for Advanced Medical Optics Inc., now Abbott Medical Optics, in Santa Ana.

She was responsible for legal, human resources, compliance and internal audit at Abbott Medical Optics and was previously its general counsel.

“I was very surprised and humbled,” Weisner said of her award. “There were some very well-respected people nominated.”

She joined Edwards after doing a consulting assignment for the heart valve maker. Her background also includes practicing in the corporate and securities group at O’Melveny & Myers LLP.

Weisner is a member of the board of directors of Los Angeles-based NeuroSigma Inc., which is developing bioelectronics devices for treating epilepsy, and the Orange County chapter of the American Heart Association.

She holds degrees from California State University-Fullerton, and Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

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