Cool Careers: Patent Attorney
From math & science to law
Action Potential Learning’s Cool Career Blog Series offers an insightful look into some of the best math and science related jobs. We bring you career insights and tips directly from successful working people that have been influenced by math and science. These Cool Career interviews will help you decide whether a career in the highlighted field is right for you!
Bachelor Degree: Biochemistry & Music, Simpson College (Indianola, Iowa)
Masters Degree: Biomedical Science, with focus on cell & molecular biology, Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, Texas)
Law Degree: JD, University of Iowa (Iowa City, Iowa)
Current position: Associate Attorney
Current Company: Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP
Q: What is your career, and what do you do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis?
I just finished law school and passed the Missouri bar exam. I just started working for SHB in September. I also have experience working for an intellectual property law firm in Des Moines. Intellectual property includes copyrights, trademarks, and patents. These are all ways that the law protects your ideas from being stolen by other people.
The job of an intellectual property lawyer is to help people obtain protection for their ideas and then enforce that protection. In patent law, this usually involves talking to an inventor about their invention and trying to figure out why and how their invention is better than what is already out there. Then you draft a document called a patent application which is filed with the United State Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C. A big part of a patent lawyer’s job is writing back and forth with a person called a patent examiner, which is a person that reads your patent application and determines if you deserve to get a patent. The lawyer’s job is to convince the examiner to give the client a patent.
Another aspect of intellectual property law is enforcing the rights of your clients. So if your client already has a patent and finds out that someone else has copied their idea and is selling it they can sue that person for “infringing” their patent (or stealing their idea). This is where the more typical lawyer work comes in such as writing briefs, gathering evidence, and arguing in court.
Q: Why is your career awesome?
I think this career is awesome because it allows me to use my scientific training without me being an actual scientist. I love reading about new technology, which happens pretty much every day in this job. To make things even more interesting, you have to use the law and your knowledge of science to help your client. Whether you are arguing with a patent examiner or in court, you have to be a problem solver and use some creativity to come up with good arguments for situations that may not have ever come up before in the law. To sum it up, I love this career because it allows me to continually learn new things and use my problem solving skills.
Q: How has math and science helped you excel in your career?
Science is a big part of my career. It is actually a requirement to become a patent attorney. I use my science background every day to understand the new technologies. Most of what I learned about science in school is quickly becoming outdated, but I have the skills to read and understand information about new advances in science.
Q: Did you ever struggle in a math or science course, and if so, what did you do to overcome it?
I struggled with my college chemistry courses more than any other classes in college. Organic chemistry never made a lot of sense to me. I studied harder and did extra practice problems to prepare for exams. It wasn’t easy, and I certainly didn't get an A, but I got through the class!
Q: What college majors or programs are best for your career?
Right now electrical engineers are in high demand in the patent law field. There are lots of advances being made in areas like cell phones and they need people with the right background knowledge to work on those patents. But really, any hard science or computer science background will work for a career in patent law. Anything from biology, to physics, to civil engineering will work.
Q: What can an interested student do now to prepare for a career in your field?
Focus on getting scientific experience. The legal knowledge will all come in law school and from doing internships. If you want to be a patent attorney, major in an area of science that interests you and possibly consider getting a higher degree in that field as well. Some universities have even started to offer programs that allow you to obtain a master’s degree or PhD at the same time as your law degree.
Q: What advice do you have for students interested in your career field?
This job certainly isn’t for everybody. Talk to people that are already doing this work and ask them what they like and dislike about it. Right off the bat I can tell you that if you don’t like reading and writing, this is NOT the career for you! Law school alone requires hours of reading every day. If you don’t like school now, you won’t like law school. Ultimately, learn as much as you can about any career before you commit to it. The best way to do so is to talk to people that are in that career and possibly even job shadow them.
Article written by Shayna L. Pond and Action Potential Learning
Action Potential Learning provides private tutoring in math and science as well as standardized test prep and science and math camps. As math and science specialists, our tutors know and understand difficult math and science concepts and can help you improve your grades and perform on standardized tests.