Pace setter-- Attorney appointed head of firm's trademark group


By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

The goal of marathon runners is to keep improving their PR, or personal record, and Mark S. Sparschu has done just that after taking up the sport some15 years ago.

And the engineer, trademark and patent attorney has been following the same blueprint in his work life too, advancing his career every step of the way. His latest professional PR was recently attained when Sparschu, 49, was appointed this month to head the trademark group of Brooks Kushman, a specialized intellectual property and commercial law firm in Southfield.

"It's a great appointment," Sparschu said during a recent interview. "We've got a great team here."

He said the senior and junior attorneys on the team, as well as the strong paralegal staff, has the ability to deliver PRs for their clients.

"We can apply the right resources to the right matters at the right level for the right clients," he said. "We have probably the deepest, broadest, and strongest trademark team for a firm our size, and that's one of our strengths."

Like the marathons he runs, Sparschu has had a long and interesting journey in reaching this finish line, but it all began in Grosse Pointe, where he was born. Sparschu said the family moved to Warren shortly after his birth, and he grew up there, graduating from Warren Cousino High School in 1979, where he excelled on the school's debate team and was the valedictorian of his class.

After graduating, Sparschu wanted to be either an engineer or an attorney. In the long run, he became both. But engineering came first. His father was an engineer, so that particular field was familiar to him growing up. And he had an aptitude for math and science. Most engineers have their share of painful mistakes while tinkering in the field, and Sparschu was no exception.

"I did my share of short circuiting things, blowing up things by accident," he said.

But he was able to secure a spot in 1979 at General Motors Institute (now known as Kettering University) in Flint. Sparschu, like all GMI students, split their five years at the college by attending school for three months, and then working at the cooperative which selected him, in this case, General Motors.

For the first half of his cooperative, Sparschu worked at GM's research laboratories, setting up work spaces, ventilation, machinery layout and other tasks. He finished his GMI co-op by working at the Chevrolet Engine Division in Warren, where he worked on electrical design, and wiring systems in particular. His end-of-school thesis was on the electrical systems of the Chevy Beretta.

Sparschu obtained his bachelor of electrical engineering degree in 1984, graduating first in his class. After working briefly for GM, Sparschu took a leave of absence and obtained his master's degree from the University of Michigan in electrical engineering, specializing in electrical communications.

He spent three years at Chevrolet in the advanced engineering group, and Sparschu said they worked on "a lot of very interesting things." One was the now-prehistoric precursor of the automobile navigation system. "It was very, very rudimentary from the GPS systems we use today," he said.

"This one used a memory cassette tape, and maps, and after you'd drive for a while, you had to change the cassette tapes out."

The system relied on a compass and wheel-sensor, which combined to let a driver know the location. Back then, there were no GPS satellites aloft to pinpoint locations.

"GM was just evaluating those at the time, so we built some of the first concept vehicles," Sparschu said.

Another assignment Sparschu considered "the coolest job at the time" was being an electrical engineer in the Corvette program. Driving around the Vettes was an added plus. During his 10 years at GM, Sparschu, as senior electrical engineer, also worked on body control electronics, and anti-lock brake and traction controls.

It was during this time that Sparschu's life took a turn. He met his future wife, Claudia, in 1988, who was a graduate student intern at GM, and he started law school. The couple wanted to keep the relationship relatively quiet, but they eventually married in 1990, have two daughters, ages 16 and 15, and a son, 10. His wife was an electrical engineer, but is now a teacher. The family lives in Northville.

As an engineer, Sparschu said going after his law degree fulfilled "this latent interest in law that I had going all the way back to high school."

"I got the law bug," he said, crediting some of that interest to his days on the high school debate team.

He began attending Wayne State University Law School during the evenings while working full-time days at GM.

"It was clearly a lot of work, but it was worth it," Sparschu said.

Sparschu graduated cum laude from law school in 1993, and joined Ford's intellectual property group as a patent attorney, and later, as a trademark attorney. As patent counsel, Sparschu was responsible for drafting and prosecuting patent applications in the electrical, electronic and electromechanical arts, in addition to managing outside counsel, according to a Brooks Kushman news release.

Sparschu did that until 2000, when he was assigned to a three-year project in Sweden as chief patent and trademark counsel for Volvo.

"Ford had just purchased Volvo, and (the company) didn't have its own in-house intellectual property law department," he said. "I was assigned to staff and run the IP department."

He defined IP as "products of the mind, of the intellect," such as patents, trademarks, copyrights and other "secret know-how." And here is where the engineering-law degree link becomes necessary.

"In the U.S., to be a patent attorney, you must have either an engineering or physical science degree," he said. "That's where the idea of engineering transitioning into law makes a lot of sense."

While Sparschu is now running the trademark department at Brooks Kushman, which requires no technical background, it certainly doesn't hurt to have as much knowledge of those things in one's resume.

"Getting into IP, my engineering background was a really big advantage," he said.

Sparschu's wife was still working at GM, so his appointment to Sweden resulted in her leaving the automaker. The family lived in Gothenburg, a west coast city of about 500,000 people, and Sparschu believed it would be very cold and snowy with citizens running around on dog sleds. He found just the opposite; a moderate climate, with very little snow in the winter.

He found the lifestyle somewhat similar to what he left, with many people able to speak English, but a little bit slower paced than in the states. Sparschu and his family delved right in to the Swedish way of life, with the children attending school there, the family shopping there, and using Sweden's medical system.

"We really immersed in the culture, and it wasn't a terribly hard transition," he said. "To this day, my wife and I both miss it."

Sparschu said IP law, in very general terms, is quite international, although there are distinctions between countries. Even now, he said attorneys in various countries are sought for advice when representing his client's rights. He said Sweden did not have a history of enforcing IP issues like the U.S., "but it's developing very quickly now," he said.

While in Sweden, Sparschu built the Volvo IP department from the ground up, staffing the department, hiring people and running the day-to-day operations of the office. He had overall responsibility for all patent and trademark law matters.

Sparschu is somewhat modest in blowing his own horn. When asked about the success of his Sweden appointment, he says simply, "I fulfilled the assignment. We found some very good people who continue to work in the (Swedish) department today, so that is a measure of how we did."

When Sparschu returned to Ford in Dearborn at the conclusion of his appointment, he took over the company's global trademark office. As chief trademark counsel, Sparschu had responsibility for the worldwide trademark law matters of Ford, and its affiliated brands, including Lincoln, Mercury, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and Aston Martin. He led Ford's international team of in-house trademark professionals and outside counsel throughout the world, and had global responsibility for clearance, filing and prosecution of trademark applications, as well as trademark enforcement, licensing transactions and litigation, according to a Brooks Kushman news release.

In 2009, Sparschu left Ford and became a shareholder at Brooks Kushman, The law firm had been representing Ford in trademark matters for some time, as outside counsel, but he said the company decided to move that operation to Brooks Kushman.

In the past year, Sparschu has been involved in trademark matters with a few other clients, but mainly handling Ford cases.

"But with my promotion, my portfolio becomes considerably wider," he said.

The firm handles more than 20,000 trademark applications and registrations for its clients, he said.

"We represent our clients in every country on Earth. It's very much an international practice," Sparschu said.

Mark A. Cantor, Brooks Kushman president, said in a news release that Sparschu "brings a new caliber of leadership to our already successful trademark team."

The Southfield firm was founded in 1983 by five IP attorneys, and has a Los Angeles office as well. It has grown to about 70 lawyers and patent agents, gaining a national and international reputation as a leader in providing cutting-edge, timely and cost-effective IP counseling. It counts four U.S. Fortune 100 companies among its many clients, and has been lauded by business magazines and IP organizations.

Sparschu said he never envisioned being in this spot while growing up.

"I didn't know anything about IP growing up," he said. "But I landed in the right place in terms of a profession. This fits very well with my interests, and I love it."

In his spare time, Sparschu said he and his wife love watching classic movies, and he's working his way through a Random House poll of the top 100 novels.

"I'm most of the way through the top 20," he said.

And there are those marathons to run. He started when he was 35, and runs three marathons each year, while also competing in the 10-mile Crim race in Flint, which he witnessed but did not run when he was at GMI.

Sparschu said he's improved his PR each time, which currently stands at 3:24, a sub 8-minute pace for the 26.2-mile distance.

"For a man of my advanced years, I'm pretty happy," he said, noting that starting his marathoning career later in life means he has less wear and tear on his body.

"Those who start earlier have things starting to wear out," he said.

He does another type of running--with his children. His son is into baseball, and a daughter plays softball, and they are "off in a hundred different directions, so that's really my biggest pastime now," he said.

Those PRs are the most meaningful of all.

Published: Mon, Jul 5, 2010