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David Keltie 1938-2016

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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.


  1. John Garrett says:

    It was a pleasure to have known David through work at Fleet place House and always a pleasant smile and a jovial greeting each day . Such sad news and such a special man, warm kind supportive and always ready to listen whoever you are. A thoroughly decent human being and sorely missed , a one off.

    Kind regards,

    John Garrett

  2. Marian Creighton says:

    A beautiful tribute to a beautiful soul.

  3. Mike Fountain says:

    What a great guy. I only met him twice but could not forget him and his influence on my son Sullivan.

  4. Tracey says:

    I’m very sorry to hear David has passed away, it was a pleasure working with him during my stay at Keltie, love to all his family and friends.
    Tracey Grenville xx

  5. I am so grateful for having had the oppportunity to share some good moments with him. David was a lovely person, a very good friend. All my love to his family. Carlos

  6. Charles Clark says:

    A wonderful tribute.

    I met Mr Keltie once at a softball match when I had been in the profession for about a year. I don’t recall any ‘war dance’ so he must have arrived halfway through the match, but I do remember him engaging with us (the “other side”) in the bar afterwards – that was a good evening of drinking! A funny thing happened when a rather young TA got chatting to David and the discussion turned to one about David’s partner. There was a moment of silence and the young lad – who had had a few pints, to be fair to him – felt the need to speak to fill the void, so he simply asked “male or female”, asking after David’s other-half. There an audible gasp and David flashed him a quick stern glance but seeing the poor youth’s obvious embarrassment he simply flung his head back and roared with laughter!

    I’ll never forget that moment – very happy memories indeed.

  7. David Yeomans says:

    So sad to hear the news. David was one of a kind.

  8. Brian Keltie says:

    Thank you for the fine tribute to the ‘brother I never had’. This summed him up very well. The laugh was infectious and you often forgot what the joke was. I saw the elephant stamp in action. David had a strong influence on the creation of my own company and its goals.

    Loved and Sadly missed by the New Zealand family.

    RIP cuzzie

    Brian Keltie

  9. Very sad news indeed. David was a great guy and will be sorely missed.

  10. What a wonderful journey David had.

    Truly an inspiration.

  11. I have known David for 30 years, both as an inspirational IP attorney and as a friend. My abiding memory of him was at the Rugby World Cup in 1999 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff watching the All Blacks against South Africa in the Bronze Medal match. Standing amongst a crowd of burly Afrikaners towering over him, little David was unperturbed repeatedly cheering “All Blacks” at the top of his high-pitched voice, causing all the neutrals nearby to burst into spontaneous laughter and offer him copious amounts of beer to shut him up! David was a legend and the life and soul of the party and I will miss his company dearly.

  12. Rob White says:

    A truly great man I shall never forget. Your influence shall live on in many David. Love Rob White

  13. Anonymous says:

    Our condolences to David’s family .Madeline would be so proud to know of his many achievements .I have such happy memories of staying with David at Primrose Hill in 2008
    With sympathy and thoughts Pen and Rob Dick,, Ruth(White0

  14. What a wonderful man David was. Kind thoughtful and without question one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met. He will always be remembered for his encouragement, generosity and above all for his infectious laugh. So sad .

  15. Simonne says:

    On behalf of us all at Von Seidels Attorneys, we send our sincerest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. We are thinking of you all at this difficult time.

    He was a truly remarkable man. His energy, personality and Kiwi spirit drew people to him and he certainly left an impression on us all at Von Seidels.

    I first met David shortly after we started Von Seidels and I remember how excited he was for us to start a new firm, how open he was about his own experience and how actively he marketed our firm and introduced us to new colleagues, both at Keltie and all over the world. We have a lot of respect for David and will always be grateful for the support, encouragement and generosity he gave us and our new firm.

    It must be a huge loss to you all, but the Keltie name lives on and we will all remember him and the impressive firm he has left behind.

    We will raise a glass to his life here in South Africa as we know he will appreciate that!

    Simonne Moodie and the Von Seidels Team, South Africa

  16. Vera Moll says:

    I will hear his vibrant laughter forever! I am so grateful that I got the chance to meet David and spent time with him. His spirit will remain with all of us! Love Vera

  17. Paul Cole says:

    David was an outstanding individual and will be greatly missed. He will be especially remembered for the spirit and ethos of the firm that he founded.

  18. I firstly met David in 1994 when I visited David Keltie’s Office for the first time. I was charmed by David’s intelligence, sense of humor and elegant manners. Later on, he visited Romania and we enjoyed his presence here as a friend during summer holidays. Then, we met several times during various IP events. I will always remember him as a dear friend and a true gentleman. My sincere condolences to David’s family and all Keltie team. Maybe the legacy David left to his colleagues is to keep on doing good job while being nice people and having fun working. Margareta Oproiu.

  19. Allens Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys, Australia says:

    It was with great sadness that we at Allens learned of the passing of our friend, colleague, and valued associate David Keltie. Our condolences to his family and to all at Keltie LLP.

    We remember David’s boundless energy, his work ethic, his love of life, his good humour, his infectious grin and his distinctive laugh. David, and the team he gathered around him, served Allens, our predecessor firms and most of all our clients with professionalism and distinction for many years. Our relationship with David dates back more than 35 years and over those years David made a real effort to develop personal relationships with a number of our past and present partners and staff. He often told the story of how he and Colin Oberin met on his first marketing trip to Australia in about 1980 at the suggestion of the late Gordon Overton of Hacks and how they had remained friends and colleagues ever since despite both experiencing various changes of firm and clients. Work has flowed both ways over those years to the mutual benefit of our respective firms and clients. Our professional relationship with David was not merely a long one – it was a highly valued one and our relationship with the Keltie firm remains so.

    The ongoing success of Keltie LLP will be a fitting reminder to the profession of an excellent patent attorney who was also an extraordinary man who truly valued his many and varied personal and professional relationships across the world. May he rest in peace.

  20. George Jomaa says:

    It is with great sadness to hear about the loss of such a great gentlemen, in every sense of the word.
    David was always a vibrant man with a great sense of humor and at the same time, a complete professional.

    The first time I met David was in his office in London, despite being a Lebanese/Australian, David quickly picked up my Australian accent and immediately started talking about the All Blacks and how much he enjoyed the Kiwis beating the Aussies. It was a great meeting with plenty of laughs.

    On a professional level, we have been working with David and the team at Keltie for many years. The sheer enthusiasm of the man can be be clearly seen from all the team in the firm as David was the type of man that would always listen and give his honest opinion.

    We at Saba and on a personal level, send our deepest sympathies to his family and staff during these very difficult times. But I am sure that all those who knew David will agree that he will always be amongst us in spirit.

    May his soul rest in pease. He will be sadly missed.

  21. peter santo says:

    David was alive! His approach to business made every meeting, every discussion eventful, enjoyable, bright…………and effective. I met him and liked him from the start.

    He really was 1st XV all the way!

    RIP David, it was a pleasure to know you.

  22. Kate Swaine says:

    David was a wonderful man. The world is a better place for having had him in it. He will be very much missed – his energy, his compassion, that wonderful laugh and his ability to talk to anyone about anything. There is so much about his life to celebrate. A true original.


  23. Carol Ann Britter says:

    A fitting tribute for a lovely man whose support for everyone will be remembered.
    So pleased that we met you David.
    Love from Carol and Keith Britter.

  24. Daniel Piels says:

    While not the tallest in height, David was a giant among men. I have never met anyone before or since with such a sunny disposition and positive outlook on life, even in the face of adversity. He commanded a room through his sheer force of personality. And that laugh of his, what a laugh! It reminded me of Jiminy Cricket. He always saw the best in everyone and brought the best out in them. David was a remarkable friend to me for 20 years. I will miss him a lot.

  25. Lambo says:

    I will never forget what he gave to me and every one he met, a passion for life,
    Anyone who knows him, his touch and influence is ever lasting.

    Love always and forever.

  26. I met David in the 1980s when we worked and travelled together over a number of years. He was the most positive and encouraging person you could meet and I loved every minute of our time together. I remain in awe of the manner in which, at no small personal risk, he set up “his” new venture in the Keltie firm and moulded it into a place where all are equal and where talent is always nurtured. As a friend he was generous with his time and with his warmth. He helped me walk through doors I never thought that I could open. What is equally wonderful is to know, from experience and from the tributes above, that he shared this positive nature with all. We all loved him for the same reasons. He enhanced all our lives. His wonderful spirit lives on in the firm he created – and in our hearts.


  27. Regina Quek says:

    I am deeply saddened by the news of David’s passing.

    I remember fondly David’s sense of fun and sparkling sense of humour, and will always be grateful for his encouragement, guidance, wisdom and warm friendship over the years.

    He will be sadly missed.

    My deepest condolences to his family and all at Keltie.

    Love, Regina

  28. Chris Keltie says:

    Sean, Judith, all of the partners, and everybody at Keltie LLP. We would like to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts, for looking after us yesterday, at our father, David Keltie’s funeral at St. Mark’s church. We felt a huge wave of love and affection from everybody.
    Thank you for the lovely card you sent us, it was waiting for us when we eventually made it home from the generous and wonderful get together at The Engineer, and The Mitre.
    Sean, your speech at the church was perfect and so moving. The service was beautiful and an amazing tribute to our dear father, and your inspirational colleague and dear friend. We were honoured to be present, to share the day and say goodbye to dad. Thank you to everybody for the wonderful tributes to our father from all around our beautiful planet; and also thinking of our family in New Zealand.
    Much love to all
    Chris, John, Richard, Wendy, Aggie, Jess, Izzy, Alex, and Leah Keltie. xxx

    • dms91 says:

      Thank you for the very fitting tribute to your father. As Seans sister, I know how important a dear friend and colleague David was. David was an inspirational man and that inspiration will be his legacy I feel!
      My sincere condolences as you all face a future without David but rest assured love lives on! xx

  29. Anne Mason says:

    Beautifully said. What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man. We are all so lucky, those who knew him. Much love to all at Keltie and to his family.

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