Profile in Brief: Lawyer-scientist

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Jennifer Carter-Johnson, assistant professor at Michigan State University College of Law, brings an interesting combination of scientific and legal expertise to her law career, investigating issues at the intersection of biological research and the law.

After graduating with highest honors from Union University in Jackson, Tenn., with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and biology, she earned her Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Virginia, where her research concentrated on immune system development.

The native of Medina, a small farming community in Tennessee, was drawn to science at an early age.

"Growing up on a farm, you learn about biology pretty quickly," she says with a smile. "Seriously, I had a wonderful high school math teacher who encouraged my aptitude. Then in college, I had a wonderful biology teacher who pulled me aside and encouraged me in that arena. I've been very lucky and highly influenced by wonderful teachers while growing up."

She then received her law degree with honors from the University of Michigan Law School, where she was an articles editor and symposium coordinator of The Michigan Law Review. The combination of interests suits her to a tee.

"I love science -- trying to understand how the world works," she says. "Once in graduate school, I realized that what I love most is figuring out how science and technology impact society as a whole. Law gave me the best way to advance that interest. Advances in biotechnology have impacted diverse areas including intellectual property law, property law, criminal law, family law, international law, as well as research regulations and ethics.

"I'm lucky that I'm able to teach a biotechnology class that brings all of these concepts together for students. Plus, patents -- as a specialized subset of property law -- are the quintessential incentive for people to develop new inventions. I don't know that it's an unusual niche but there are certainly fewer of us out there due to the multi-background necessity"

Carter-Johnson, who teaches courses in Patent Law, Property, and Biotechnology Law, joined the MSU faculty last fall after teaching as a visiting faculty fellow at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.

"I love the student interaction, especially helping people to realize what they are capable of," she says. "MSU Law is amazing place to do that because the faculty really care about the students as well as each other. I leave home each day to go visit my other family."

Prior, she was a patent attorney, with Perkins Coie in Seattle, specializing in intellectual property licensing and representation of biotechnology companies. In 2004, she did a TechStart internship at the U-M Technology Transfer Office, conducting market analysis, preparing a patent landscape overview, drafting a business plan and soliciting venture capital funding for an emerging medical device company.

A member of the Washington State Bar, she is registered to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and is a member of the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law, Biotechnology Committee, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Her legal articles include "Unveiling the Distinction between the University and its Academic Researchers: Lessons for Patent Infringement and University Technology Transfer" and "The Shifting Landscape of Patent Licensing," and she has been a presenter and panelist at Washington University School of Law and Cardozo University.

In her spare time, Carter-Johnson enjoys nature photography and cooking, especially of updated Southern comfort food.

"I like to take basic meals and make them feel special. I admit that Mom still makes better fried chicken."

She enjoys road trips and has traveled through 41 of the 50 states. While her home state of Tennessee is the favorite -- and she goes there as often as possible, to visit her mother, sister and aunt -- she also loved living in Virginia and Washington State. Her favorite vacation places have been Bryce Canyon in Utah and the Maine coastline.

She and her husband Jeff Carter-Johnson share their lives with a Golden Retriever names Sophie -- full name Sophie, Princess of Destruction, so named for her penchant for biting the flowers off of every plant that she sees -- and Carter-Johnson enjoys doing dog training, mostly basic obedience and a few tricks.

An avid fan of Anne Rice novels from long before vampire fiction became so popular, she enjoys today's authors of the genre, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Kim Harrison and Laurell K. Hamilton.

"There are some really great books out now, but it's tricky to find the true gems since it's become such a popular topic."

Published: Wed, May 11, 2011

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