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Career Story: Patent Attorney And University Professor

Patent Attorney And University Professor

Job Title: Patent Attorney And Adjunct Professor

Type of Company: I am Of Counsel to a small law firm specializing in intellectual property, and I teach year-round at a university.

Education: A.B., History & Science, Harvard College •• M.S., Oceanography, UCLA •• Ph.D., History of Science, Harvard University •• J.D., Rutgers University

Previous Experience: I started as a naval officer in destroyers. I then went to graduate school, first in oceanography, then in the history of science. After a number of years teaching and researching, including a term as Graduate Dean, I became Historian of the U. S. Geological Survey. When that job was abolished, I went to law school, teaching part-time. After law school I became a patent attorney, first in private practice and then as patent attorney for a federal government laboratory. When I retired from the government, I resumed private law practice. I also teach as an adjunct professor at a university.

Job Tasks: I meet, or communicate by telephone, letter, or email, with private clients who have made inventions for which they want patent protection or who want a federal trademark for the unique way they name, describe, or illustrate their businesses. When they let me know what they want, I research similar things and advise them about what they need to do. If they ask me, I apply in their name for a U. S. or foreign patent or trademark. Then I work with government officials, mostly on paper, to improve the applications to make them eligible for the grant of rights. A patent provides a monopoly for 20 years from the first application. A trademark can last forever if it's in use, but it has to be renewed every so often. I also teach at a university: introductory law to undergraduates studying engineering and computer science and the history of science and technology to anyone. The latter I teach online, so the students can be anywhere in the world.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best parts are getting government-approved rights for clients and seeing students learn something. The worst parts are the nit-picking by patent and trademark examiners as they process the applications and the failure of those students who don't learn or don't do the work.

Job Tips: To become a patent attorney, you have to study engineering or science. But the most important thing to learn is how to write clearly and concisely. That's not a skill most engineers or scientists acquire, but it's essential to a patent attorney. In a patent application, you should never vary your language as you would in ordinary writing. For a university teacher, the most important thing is to present your subject, whatever it may be, as the most important thing in the world, far more important than you know it to be in your heart.

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