Navy veteran looks to career in patent law


By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News
Brian Apel started on his path to patent law by earning an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Northwestern University where he was in the Navy ROTC program.

Always a “rule follower,” and attracted to military organization and structure, Apel chose the Navy for travel opportunities. 

He served as a Surface Warfare Officer on the USS Rentz based in San Diego, then as an Engineering Duty Officer at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Navy,” Apel said. “The sailors and civilians I worked with are amazingly dedicated to their Navy and their country.”

After getting married, Apel and his wife Jenna decided that being geographically close to family was a priority; moving every three years would have made that difficult.

Ready to transition out of the Navy after the death of his father, an attorney, Apel sought out the advice of his uncle, also an attorney, who recommended that a chemistry degree made patent law a good choice. 

After speaking with several patent attorneys to find out more about the field, Apel felt his niche would be intellectual property, specifically patent litigation involving chemical, biological or pharmaceutical technologies.

“I could definitely see myself doing that long-term,” he said.

Apel headed to the University of Michigan Law School, and graduated this spring. 

He served as executive editor of the Michigan Law Review, was a first-place winner in the Gellhorn-Sargentich law student essay competition and was a quarterfinalist in the prestigious Campbell Moot Court Competition. He also was an executive board member in the Intellectual Property Students Association and an admissions office tour guide.

“The best part of Michigan Law — by far — is the people,” Apel said. “The students, faculty, and staff are friendly, helpful, brilliant and approachable. The community atmosphere makes me want to stay, but my time is up.”

Apel spent the past two summers doing summer associate work, first in the Chicago office of the intellectual-property law firm of Banner & Witcoff; and most recently for Fish & Richardson in Minneapolis, a global patent, intellectual-property litigation and commercial litigation law firm with more than 400 attorneys and technology specialists across the U.S. and Europe.

His work included drafting a patent owner’s summary judgment brief on the accused infringer’s equitable defenses; providing non-infringement and invalidity counseling for a chemical company; and analyzing evidentiary requirements under Daubert.

“Most of my work involved researching various legal issues and writing memos and legal motions,” he said. “The most enjoyable part was how hard it was — the assignments forced me to think about a problem from all angles.”

In his leisure time, the Idaho native is passionate about sports, plays golf and tutors children in chemistry.

Apel and his wife was preparing to leave Ann Arbor for Eden Prairie, a suburb of Minneapolis, returning to work for Fish & Richardson. 

In the fall of 2017 he will start clerking in Minneapolis for Chief Judge John. R. Tunheim of the District of Minnesota.

“When we get to Minnesota, I’m interested in getting involved and volunteering with local schools as well as possibly doing some pro bono work on First Amendment cases,” Apel said.


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