From patents to post-grant proceedings, trademarks to trade secrets, intellectual property law is dynamic and diverse. As the digital age continues to redefine the boundaries of innovation, businesses and inventors are increasingly looking to protect their creative and technological assets.
Advocating for them are IP attorneys with a passion for science, arts, entertainment and helping their creators legally protect their assets. What is it like to be a practicing IP lawyer involved in all facets of this legal paradigm?
In the spirit of shedding light, Patterson Thuente founder Jim Patterson and associate attorney Ria Chakraborty give a glimpse into their work and what it takes to succeed as a patent attorney.
The (IP) Law of Attraction
For Jim, the journey into intellectual property law was a natural extension of his college engineering studies. The convergence of his technical background and the then-newly emerging field of patent law during his years at the University of Kansas proved to be the perfect match.
“Patent law and my college studies in engineering went together,” says Jim. “It was also a time when patent law was burgeoning – coming out of the backwaters and into the mainstream.”
During his third year of law school, Jim, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Navy, found opportunities in patent law when the Navy came through the Lawrence, Kansas, campus – solidifying his career choice. “(It) seemed like a great opportunity, and after having served my country, I’ve never looked back.”
Ria was drawn to IP law by the prospect of assisting inventors and innovators in turning their ideas into reality. She was already proficient in understanding and translating, in nontechnical layman’s terms, the highly nuanced details of technology, as a banking systems analyst. “I liked the idea of helping inventors and innovators in the community,” Ria says. “I was interested in progressing things forward. It seemed like a very happy profession because we can make people’s ideas and dreams come true.”
With Challenges Come Rewards
Change, in the IP law paradigm, is good when it comes to keeping one’s work exciting. “It’s an area of law in which you’re always learning,” says Jim. “Even after decades as an attorney, the practice is evolving each day, and the issues remain complex.”
However, the challenging part of the job for Jim is also what he enjoys: effectively presenting complex legal and technical information to clients in a way that allows them to make informed decisions. Patent attorneys must bridge that gap between intricate fact patterns and the business world, facilitating their clients’ strategic choices.
Ria echoes Jim’s sentiments, finding the most rewarding aspect of her work to be inventor interaction. “I love talking to inventors and understanding immediately why they’re so excited about one of their creations. Getting to play a part in the realization of their passion is very cool,” she says.
They say truth is stranger than fiction, and for Jim and Ria, some of their most memorable caseloads read straight out of a script for a high-stakes legal drama. Jim recounts a particularly interesting copyright case in which he collaborated with a Serbian law firm to assist a solo Serbian inventor whose work had been infringed upon by none other than Twin Cities-headquartered Target.
“What made this case potentially difficult was taking it on a pro bono basis when the other side is a multi-billion-dollar corporation with potentially endless resources,” recalls Jim. “What made the case unique was the opportunity to gain a favorable verdict for a solo artist and work in conjunction with a law firm on the other side of the world.”
One of Ria’s recent hurdles was in drafting a patent application for an electrical fuse that had prior art which, while seemingly simple, had broad implications, proving difficult to find a workaround and patent something distinct yet similar. The case, she says, required careful analysis and creative thinking to navigate the complexities of patent law.
It begs the question: Litigate, or settle? There’s a reason, according to Jim, why reaching a mutual agreement remains more likely than taking a case to court.
“The best patent you can write is one where a competitor decided that it was not worth challenging,” he says. “In other words, the best patent you can write is one that you never hear about after the fact in litigation or other areas, because a competitor decided that they could not compete.”
Sage Advice for Aspiring Attorneys
For those considering a career in IP law, Ria offers valuable advice:
A willingness to learn is paramount.
“Even after you’ve graduated law school and passed the Bar, everyone starts out in patent law knowing almost nothing about the true practice and what exactly it takes to succeed,” she says. “If you’re curious and willing to take constructive criticism, the rest will be easy. Always remember that you belong in this space, too.”
Ria says that colleague collaboration is one key to ultimately finding success as a new IP attorney.
“At this point in your career, the most valuable resources are those who have been doing this longer than you,” she says. “It won’t be without hiccups, but lean on your mentors for advice and assistance.”
A Love for the Law
At Patterson Thuente, we align closely with a core set of values. But if there’s one ideal we regard highest, it’s that we believe in access to justice for all. Like Jim and Ria, all of our attorneys possess experience across several interdisciplinary areas, with a passion and a mission for helping clients from all walks of life protect — and profit from — their unique ideas.
If you’re seeking a patent or copyright, looking to develop or streamline your IP strategy or just seeking legal advice as a potential plaintiff or defendant, contact our offices today. We can help.