By Sheila Pursglove
Patent law is an excellent career field for engineers or people with technical backgrounds that are interested in law. Those are the encouraging words from Trent English, a patent attorney with Howard & Howard in Royal Oak and an adjunct professor at Michigan State University College of Law where he will teach Patent Application Preparation this fall.
"Preparing patent applications is part art and part law," he says. "There are a number of different styles employed by patent practitioners--and often styles change as the law changes. The trick is to find a drafting style that transcends such changes."
The opportunity to teach at his alma mater is very meaningful.
"I've been a Spartan since I can remember," he says.
His family of Spartans dates back to his grandfather in the early 1930s, followed by his father who earned undergrad and grad degrees at MSU, his older brother, then English and one of his younger brothers continued the tradition.
His own experiences as an MSU Law student helped pave his career path. Coming from a farming family, English entered law school with the original intent of helping farmers with their legal issues. But about two months before law school started, he found an opportunity to work at Howard & Howard as an intern in their intellectual property group.
"After about one week, I knew I'd found my path. I was an intern for four years at Howard & Howard, which laid the foundation for my patent practice. I still feel extremely lucky to have been given that opportunity."
English specializes in helping clients - from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies in the United States and abroad - bring innovative products to market. His particular niche is in medical device technologies, but his practice has exposed him to all types of technologies such as automotive components, foodstuffs, gas distribution systems, building products, and business methods. His work includes filing patent applications, conducting prior art investigations, assisting clients with design-around efforts, licensing, patent reexamination and patent litigation.
"I enjoy counseling clients about patent law, but also giving practical advice in their business," he says. "I particularly enjoy working with medical devices - I'm exposed to cutting edge technologies that directly impact people's lives."
But his field is not all plain sailing.
"Generally it's very challenging to succinctly explain to inventors the principles of patent law that took me years to fully understand," he says.
Named among Michigan Rising Stars, 2010-2012, English is licensed to practice in Michigan and before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In 2005, he was the recipient of the 33rd Annual Dr. Joseph Rossman Memorial Award as co-author of the article in the Journal of the Patent and Trademark Office Society "that made the greatest contribution to the field of Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights."
English, who previously taught a surveying lab at MSU when he was in grad school, and a design law course at Cooley Law School, is back in familiar territory in East Lansing, having earned his undergrad degree in civil engineering and a master's degree in environmental engineering both from MSU, as well as his J.D.
His engineering talents were nurtured in his youth on the family farm in Breckenridge, Mich., where he enjoyed repairing farm equipment.
"Often I was repairing the same equipment I had a hand in breaking in the first place, so the skills I gained were mostly out of necessity," he says with a smile. "In high school, my strengths were in math and science and I knew engineering was probably best suited for me."
Before becoming a legal eagle, he was a consulting engineer at Triad Engineering and at Lawson-Fisher Associates, both in South Bend, Ind., where his work included designing and analyzing sewer systems and assisting clients in compliance issues with the Clean Water Act.
"I liked the people I worked with--we all had similar backgrounds, which gave us a lot in common," he says.
English and his wife, Kathie, live in Williamston, with their sons, Henry, 3, and 1-year-old Luke; and are eagerly awaiting the birth of their daughter at the end of July.
"My hobbies include playing with my kids, visiting with family, and more recently - making my own soda," he says.
He also enjoys golfing, offshore fishing, and home remodeling, and for the past few years has been a volunteer for the St. Vincent De Paul Society in Williamston.
Published: Thu, Jun 27, 2013