Thomas Varnum, Brooks Pierce Photo

Thomas G. Varnum



Thomas represents and counsels businesses on a myriad of intellectual property and business matters. An avid supporter of North Carolina’s film industry, Thomas also practices in film and entertainment law, working with producers and filmmakers throughout the entire production process. In addition to his legal practice, Thomas is a co-owner of Mad Mole Brewing in Wilmington. He utilizes insights from this unique “real world” experience when counseling breweries, distilleries and wineries about alcoholic beverage law.

My Practices

  • Thomas helps clients navigate intellectual property issues, including trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, idea protection, data privacy, and digital marketing. Thomas works with businesses and other content creators to identify, enforce and exploit their intellectual property rights. He also litigates intellectual property infringement and trade secrets misappropriation lawsuits in both state and federal courts, and handles trademark proceedings before the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB).

    Thomas has experience working with breweries, distilleries and wineries on intellectual property matters, including selecting, protecting and enforcing trademarks, product names, business names and label artwork.

    "The relationships I enjoy because of my practice keep me coming back every day. Whether I’m working with an industry leading technology company or a brand new filmmaker, I get energy from helping ambitious and creative people find value in what they create."
  • Thomas represents individuals and companies active in all types of entertainment projects, from film and television, to online videos and other media. Thomas regularly works with independent producers and other filmmakers, counseling clients throughout the pre-production, production, post-production and distribution processes. Thomas has represented and negotiated with production companies, talent and entertainment lawyers from all over the country, helping talented people bring creative ideas all the way from inception to the screen.

    Thomas has served as an Adjunct Professor of Entertainment Law at Elon University School of Law. He also has a personal interest in film and television, and is active in North Carolina’s film industry. Most notably, he served for six years on the board of trustees for Cucalorus Film Festival, one of the Southeast’s largest independent film festivals.

    In addition, Thomas also works on the literature side of entertainment, counseling authors on a variety of legal issues that arise throughout the publishing process, including contract negotiations and copyright and fair use issues.

  • Thomas represents companies and individuals in complex business litigation in both federal and state court. He has represented businesses and individuals in lawsuits involving a variety of issues, including contract disputes, intellectual property (trademark, copyright, and patent) infringement claims, trade secrets misappropriation claims, non-competition and non-solicitation agreements, defamation claims, construction disputes, shareholders’ rights, and lender liability claims. Thomas also litigates trademark opposition and cancellation proceedings in front of the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB). 

  • Thomas has become a trusted advisor for many clients, transitioning from an intellectual property attorney or entertainment attorney to general counsel for many businesses he works with. Thomas is in daily communication with many of clients, advising on a variety of legal issues, from labor and employment matters to real estate issues. Clients may be based in North Carolina, but many do business all over the world. Thomas has worked with clients that include technology and software companies, dental and medical practices, an international online marketplace, manufacturing companies in different sectors, a transportation logistics company, and a securities broker-dealer, to name a few.

    His hands-on experience as a co-owner of a local brewery gives him an invaluable perspective for understanding the legal issues craft alcoholic beverage producers face. He has assisted businesses within this industry on entity formation, federal TTB permitting, state ABC licensing, employment practices, zoning issues, and other important matters.


Honors & Recognitions

Selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in Entertainment Law - Motion Pictures and Television (2024)

Recognized as one of StarNews Media and the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce's "40 Under 40" (2019)

Selected by his peers for inclusion in Business North Carolina’s “Legal Elite” in Intellectual Property (2015-2024) and “Young Guns” (2015)

Recognized in North Carolina Super Lawyers (Thomson Reuters) in Intellectual Property (2023-2024); “Rising Star” (2014-2022)

Rated AV Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell


University of California at Davis School of Law, J.D., 2008; Order of the Coif; Law Review Articles Editor, 2007-08

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A., 2004, with honors


North Carolina

U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Court of Federal Claims

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit

U.S. District Court for the Western, Middle, and Eastern Districts of North Carolina




Professional & Civic

Professional & Civic Activities

Adjunct Professor (Entertainment Law),  Elon University School of Law (2015-2018)

Board of Directors, Brigade Boys & Girls Club (2012-present)

Board of Directors, Cucalorus Film Foundation (2013-2019); Treasurer (2015);  Board Chair, (2016-2018)

Member, North Carolina Bar Association, Intellectual Property Section (2008-present)

Member, North Carolina Bar Association, Sports & Entertainment Law Section (2008-present)

About Me

Brooks Pierce is a firm that celebrates independent, cerebral, and creative thinkers. Get to know Thomas through our own version of the famous Proust Questionnaire:

I became a lawyer because:  I went to law school planning to be an entrepreneur, but fell in love with the law.

What I appreciate the most in my friends:  The ability to debate something complex one moment, then watch sports or a mindless comedy the next.

One surprising thing people don’t know about me is:  I owned a personal training business before going to law school.

My occupation if I weren't a lawyer:  Professional fly fisherman…or surfer…or cyclist…something active and outdoors.

Where I'd most like to live:  Wilmington, NC of course. Okay--maybe Wrightsville Beach, NC!

What legal work most excites me:  Helping people of all walks of life turn a good idea into value.

The natural talent I'd like to be gifted with:  A singing voice, or something remotely close to a singing voice.

My motto:  Proper preparation prevents poor performance.

I understand others think I am:  Very much, at times, but not always, kind of long-winded.  

My favorite characters in fiction:  Calvin from "Calvin and Hobbes", and Professor Albus Dumbledore.

I grew up:  Surfing, mountain biking and spending time with my dog Chipper on the Northern California coast.

My favorite activity away from work:  Almost anything outdoors (camping, fishing, cycling, surfing…) with my family and friends 51 weeks a year—but attending the Cucalorus Film Festival for one week every November!

My legacy:  T.B.D

  • 5
    5 cross-country road trips since graduating from college
  • 7
    7 seasons served as coach of daughter's recreational soccer team
  • 1
    1 medal received (on display in office) for winning Brooks Pierce law firm beach bocce championship (2013)
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