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Former Sparty mascot is IP attorney

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

A local inventor sank millions into his brainchild of a laser-guided lawnmower-relieving endless hours of physical labor and envisioning that the machine could mow golf courses at night, and lawn services could own teams of the mowers to service a whole neighborhood.

"Then the technology could be expanded to numerous other labor intensive applications," explains attorney Kris Hulliberger. "Unfortunately, it did not turn as it was hoped."

It's just one of many fascinating cases Hulliberger has come across in his practice as an Intellectual Property attorney at Howard & Howard Attorneys in Royal Oak, where he specializes in patent, trademark and trade secret litigation and patent preparation and prosecution.

A large part of Hulliberger's practice is to take technologically complex matters, whether in front of the Patent Office or in front of judges and juries, and distill it down into an understandable story the challenge being how to present certain topics and technology so that everyone understands it.

"If no one understands what you're talking about, your chances of winning are slim to none," he says.

The IP niche is a good fit for Hulliberger's science background and he enjoys combining technology and law and helping protect people's ideas.

"There is nothing better than making that call to share the good news when you get a patent or a favorable court ruling," he says.

A chemical engineering degree does not restrict the various technologies that Hulliberger works on. "Whether they are computer inventions or just those strange ones that no one else wants to handle," he says. His patent experience includes automotive components, magnetorhelogical fluids; formulations of polyurethanes, elastomers, and adhesives; RF communication technologies for increased security; GPS technologies; video editing technologies; and medical devices.

One memorable patent was for a spider silk collection, an idea from a school for gifted children that spends time in Brazil.

"The altruistic goal was to convince farmers to stop cutting down rainforests for cattle farms, and instead use the rain forests to raise spiders and collect the silk," Hulliberger explains. "The silk has properties that are stronger than steel and could be used in medical applications such as replacing tendons and used in safety applications as it's stronger and lighter than Kevlar. Scientists have not been able to make silk in labs that have the same properties as naturally occurring silk."

Another idea, with potentially far-reaching health benefits, was from a local university applying for a patent for a method of detecting changes in tumors, combining different technologies to more accurately tell if tumors have changed and which treatment was effective.

"It would also tell if the tumor was growing," Hulliberger notes. "One problem in the field is that there are different imaging systems, but no prior way to combine them to give accurate and informative results."

Hulliberger, who has represented patent holders in numerous cases with highly complex patent portfolios, and defended manufacturer's critical products against claims of patent infringement, has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in trade secret litigation regarding alleged use and theft of confidential information. He counsels clients in patent and trademark preparation and prosecution matters in the chemical, computer and mechanical technologies, and in reexamination strategies.

Passionate about technology from boyhood, Hulliberger also counsels clients on records management and retention, electronic communications and electronic discovery, and looks for the best ways to utilize technology to facilitate litigation.

"I love using technology to handle my litigation matters," he says. "Even over the last 10 years, things we can do today took forever or were not possible. Now we can handle warehouse-sized document productions in a fraction of the time it used to take. Finding the needle in the haystack has become simpler still hard, but now there's a fighting chance."

Hulliberger, named among DBusiness Top Lawyers and Michigan Rising Stars, has always been fascinated by science. At Forest Hills Central High School in Grand Rapids, he enjoyed chemistry classes, and after seeing his teacher's poster for chemical engineering at Michigan State University, he knew that would be his undergrad degree.

He also had his sights set on entering the law. Since childhood, his grandmother had said law should be his career "Because I always thought I was right and I wanted to argue about it until everyone agreed," he says with a smile. "I don't know if this is fair or accurate, but it seems from an early age I was destined to practice law."

After graduating from MSU, and wanting to stay in the Detroit area, Hulliberger heard about Howard & Howard's patent intern program and was hooked.

"New technology on every file you pick up. You don't have to do the same technology every day. This was music to my ears," he says. He started work at the firm before starting Wayne State University Law School in 1999.

At Wayne Law, he had to come to terms with the difference from his previous line of work as an engineer and scientist, where there is always a right answer.

"You have to show your work and how you got the right answer. If you were wrong, you would examine your work, find the mistake and fix it," he explains. "In law, there is no right answer until the judge or jury tells you what they decide. Switching from the 'one right answer' to 'no right answer' was a huge challenge and very disconcerting.

"What I enjoyed was applying my critical thinking and analytical skills to legal problems and then working to see the issue from both sides. Trying to anticipate what the best arguments were from both sides was an enlightening experience. Wayne Law has great students and I got to work with my colleagues on honing this skill."

Hulliberger interned for U.S. District Court Chief Judge Gerald E. Rosen, Eastern District of Michigan, where he assisted with case edits and updates in The Rutter Groups, Federal Civil Trials and Evidence.

"I enjoyed seeing how the court functions internally," he says. "Prior to law school, I didn't have any exposure to the legal system or courts other than what I saw on TV or in movies. It was truly eye-opening, mostly in a good way, to see what actually happens."

Now Hulliberger, who serves on the council for the State Bar of Michigan's Litigation Section, and is the media/communication director for the Michigan IP Inns of Court, shares some of that courtroom experience with youngsters. As chair of the Law Related Education (LRE) committee for the Oakland County Bar Association, he helps elementary school children learn about the law and puts on a mock trial at the local courthouse.

"I also chair the Law Day, when high school seniors and juniors come listen to presenters about law-related topics," he says.

A native of Ada near Grand Rapids, Hulliberger now lives in Commerce Township with his wife Mary, and children Hannah and Kyle. In his leisure time, he enjoys golf, reading, and computers, and also makes time to serve as a judge for the Science and Engineering Fair of Metro Detroit, featuring high school and middle school science projects.

Hulliberger and his wife first met as students at MSU, where Mary was the first female to serve as drum major in the Spartan Marching Band, and where Hulliberger portrayed the MSU mascot "Sparty" from 1997-98. The 1997 Aloha Bowl trip in Hawaii brought the couple together.

"Portraying Sparty involved attending sporting events, weddings, parades, birthdays, and several other events," Hulliberger says. "The best part was interacting with the children and seeing the awe and excitement in their eyes when they met Sparty."

Do you have news to share or a story idea?

Contact Sheila Pursglove

at spursglove@legalnews.com

Published: Mon, Mar 30, 2015

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