European Style: Patent attorney offers German know-how

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 By Jo Mathis

Legal News
 
If you had to describe Ann Arbor patent attorney Linda Nattler in one word, you might want to go with “resourceful.” After all, when this German physicist-turned attorney packed up and moved to Michigan in 1996, she knew only one person in the entire country — besides her three-year-old daughter, that is.
But that was nothing for someone whose motto is “Why not?”
Nattler not only sews her own clothes from the patterns she makes herself (at 5-foot-9 she needs extra length in the legs), she works on her own car, recently repaired an ailing computer graphics card, and has cut her own hair for years.
And all of the above without a single lesson.
“I just know I can do it,” she says with a shrug. “And I’ve always loved to take things apart.”
Nattler is one of the few attorneys in the U.S. who has practiced in both the European Patent Office and the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. The European Patent Convention spans 27 countries, and her knowledge of the differences in patent protection helps clients seeking protection overseas.
“The European Patent Office doesn’t deal with trademarks, and there are no design patents as there are here,” she said.  “In Europe, a design is more a registration process like a trademark.
“But for utility patents, I’d say the U.S. and Europe are fairly similar. In every patent office, you file a patent application, you go through an examination process, and then you get a grant. That is similar in all patent offices. But if an attorney does not know the intricate differences, it can be very difficult to obtain a patent overseas.”
In the U.S. and under the European Patent Convention, some standards and interpretations differ. Nattler considers these standards when drafting patent applications and also trains other patent attorneys to do the same.
Steve Oberholtzer, managing partner of the Ann Arbor Brinks office, said Nattler’s native German language skill and her experience with  European patent practice provide “unique and valuable capabilities for our clients in our global business world.” 
She has used those attributes in the automotive, medical device, and scientific instrumentation segments, he said.
Nattler loves her job because it’s challenging on many levels.
“I’m a grammar freak, so I’m a fan of precise expression,” she said. “I also deal with a lot of people. I talk to the inventors, and I like their enthusiasm.”
Nattler grew up in Germany and earned her degree in physics in 1989 from Universität  Bayreuth. When she saw a job opening for a patent engineer at ITT Automotive, she knew it would be a good fit.
“Patent engineers are interested in the law, and you need to like language and technology, so I thought, ‘Wow. That’s me.’ And I’ve never regretted it.”
She got the job and stayed there for more than six years. When she gave notice that she’d quit in six months, the American headquarters of ITT wanted her to move to the U.S.
“I said, ‘No, I’m not going to do it,’” she recalled.
But she agreed to go to Auburn Hills for a couple of weeks to try it out. 
It didn’t take her long to realize she did in fact want to move to Michigan. So Nattler and her three-year-old daughter moved to Michigan in 1996, and she worked for another 14 years as a patent engineer.
After hitting the proverbial glass ceiling, Nattler decided she should go to law school. When she started taking weekend classes at Thomas Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills in 2007, she was 45. She earned her J.D., magna cum laude, in 2010.
“Then I said, ‘I’m done with law school. I’d like to work for a law firm now,’” she recalled.
She knew she wanted to work for Brinks Gilson & Lione and it was the only place she applied.  She has been an associate with the firm’s Ann Arbor office since 2010.
At Brinks, she focuses her intellectual property law practice on patent prosecution and IP portfolio management, with a particular emphasis on the areas of mechanics, electronics, hydraulics and computerized processes.
Nattler says she still feels like a physicist/engineer, and the transition into law has felt effortless.
Her daughter, Vera, is majoring in microbiology and German at the University of Michigan. The two enjoy visiting family in Germany twice a year for a week at a time.
Nattler much prefers Ann Arbor to her former hometown of Rochester Hills, which she says is more a bedroom community with less going on.
“There are so many things within walking distance here,” said Nattler, who lives two miles from her downtown office. “The European in me loves that.”

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