Engineering a career

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Experience gives area patent  attorney edge with inventors

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

A practicing engineer for many years, patent attorney Jeffrey Snyder enjoys the camaraderie of meeting inventors and “talking the talk.”

“What’s more special is when it isn’t just ‘talk,’ but a true understanding of the technical challenges they face in the development of their invention,” he says.

“Many concepts of cutting-edge innovation are better understood through engineering principles, and effective communication of these principles is key—inventors are often most comfortable explaining and describing their invention using engineering terms and principles,” he adds. “My job is to act as an interpreter. As a patent attorney with hands-on engineering experience, I can understand and seamlessly engage in the dialogue, and can translate that dialogue into strong patent protection.”

A principal in Harness Dickey’s Detroit Metro office in Troy, Snyder has always loved learning about how things work.

“I was that kid who would receive a remote-controlled car on Christmas morning and have it apart that afternoon to see how it worked,” he says.

After studying mechanical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, Snyder earned a BSME from the University of Denver, during which he spent a year as an oil production engineer with Mobil Oil in the heavy oil fields of California.

“Like most aspects of my life, I gravitate to hands-on experiences that give me a chance to broaden my knowledge—working alongside heavy machinery and complex equipment certainly did just that,” he says.

For many years, Snyder also worked as a mechanical design engineer in Chicago designing 35mm cameras for consumer camera companies, such as Kodak, Pentax, and Halina, for worldwide sale. He developed invaluable practical, real-world engineering design experience of the entire process of designing, developing, prototyping, and manufacturing 35mm cameras, including injection-molding techniques, rapid prototyping, debugging, and interacting with other engineering disciplines and business units.

“It was the first time I got to flex my proverbial engineering muscles on—at least at the time—a ubiquitous consumer product,” he says.

“With camera phones everywhere nowadays, the display of 35mm cameras in my office might resemble museum pieces to younger visitors. On the brighter side, I was able to travel to Hong Kong and China to oversee the initial production and witness an incredible and fascinating area of the world during a time of enormous change.”

Snyder notes that while, to many people, the transition from engineering to the practice of law may seem odd, in many ways the two are cut from the same cloth.

“Both demand that one be able to apply established principles, laws, and personal experiences to ever-changing situations and applications,” he says. “Over my 20 years of legal practice, I’ve found that lawyers with technical backgrounds are often well equipped in this regard. Although I enjoy all areas of law, the possibility of practicing intellectual property law is what drew me in.”

It was in fact the chairman of the University of Denver Engineering College who had encouraged Snyder to investigate intellectual property law and the opportunity to work with experts in a wide variety of technical fields and on inventions at the forefront of technology.

“To my engineering-warped mind, I can’t get enough of working with people and organizations that are dedicated to figuring out how to build cool new things,” Snyder says. “Even after 20 years of practice in IP law, I still get excited working with clients, learning the details of their innovations, and developing partnerships with their organizations.”

Snyder, who has written and prosecuted more than 2,000 patent applications in the U.S. and worldwide, has worked on patent portfolios that garner millions of dollars of licensing fees and competitive advantage for his clients. He has also seen his share of the weird and wonderful.

“In one case, I prepared a patent application for a research university that related to remote-controlled bugs—as in a neural stimulant system for controlling the flight of bugs and beetles,” he says. “I’ve also worked on several patents for interplanetary and interstellar propulsion systems. Some may say that what we do is not ‘rocket science,’ but in these cases, it was!”

Although Snyder works with clients of all sizes from corporations, to small business, to start-ups, to individual inventors, he particularly enjoys working with inventors who are passionate about their invention.

“Many times, these are people with potentially transformative ideas who don’t know how to obtain the proper legal protection,” he says. “I get tremendous satisfaction out of guiding them through that process, so they can move on to the next phase of developing a great business.”

As chairman of Harness Dickey’s Patent and Trademark Office Practice Committee, Snyder closely follows legislative and judicial changes in patent law, and is struck by the number of recent cases that have had enormous effect on IP practice, especially with those related to the implementation of the America Invents Act (AIA).

“AIA introduced a plethora of new standards and procedures, such as the now infamous Inter Partes Review,” he says. “The Patent Bar will need to quickly adapt to these new standards and practices in order to properly protect their client’s interests.”

Snyder also notes that since the U.S. Supreme Court held in 2014 in Alice Corp. vs. CLS Bank that abstract ideas implemented using a computer are not patent-eligible, many judges have cited the ruling to invalidate numerous patents. Recently, however, the Federal Circuit has helped patent owners avoid ineligibility rulings in two recent cases.

“In May of this year, the federal circuit overturned a ruling by the lower court and concluded that the patent claims of a computer database product were patentable under Alice,” he explains. “Similarly, in June, the federal circuit again reversed a lower court ruling and held that a patent on filtering Internet content improved computer functioning and thus was not an abstract idea.”

A native of Rochester in Oakland County, Snyder grew up in Colorado and returned to Michigan after graduating from law school and getting married. He and his wife and two teen-age daughters live in the Village of Clarkston, where they are active in a local church.

An avid photographer and hunter, Snyder counts aviation as his primary hobby—a passion with its roots in his boyhood in Colorado, where he watched gliders and birds soar above his family’s home. Now a commercial pilot in single-engine and multi-engine aircraft with an instrument rating, he is certified to fly both land and seaplanes.

In 2007, he and a friend co-founded BeechTalk, an online venue where pilots, owners, fixed-based operators, and mechanics can share their common interest and help one another. At more than 40,000 members, the group is one of the largest online pilot communities worldwide.

Snyder’s volunteer work with the Veteran Airlift Command (VAC) is a cause that is dear to his heart. This national volunteer organization helps post 9/11 combat-wounded veterans and their families with pilots donating time, aircraft, fuel, and other expenses to transport veterans for medical and other compassionate purposes.

“My small contribution to these veterans and their families pales in comparison to what they have given to us,” he says.
 

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