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IP attorney draws on automotive engineering expertise

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Connected car technology is a hot topic and an area of expertise for former automotive engineer Jennifer Dukarski, now an intellectual property, media and technology attorney for Butzel Long who counsels companies on the best methods of keeping driver and owner data private and secure. "This is a fast-paced, rapidly growing area of the law and I'm very excited to be involved in the industry during such exciting times," she says.

As vehicles move towards more automated technology and more data collection, there are several key challenges to overcome, such as who owns the data the car collects. "It would seem simple to say the car owner would control the information, but when you have bank owners, individual owners, lessors, and other parties involved, it becomes more complex," Dukarski explains.

Another issue is who can access that data. "You have the car companies and suppliers who create the components collecting the data wanting to access the information to 'improve your driving experience,'" she says. "The insurance companies want the data to create new models for rates, to better predict driving patterns, and to address claims. Even the states and state agencies including the police are interested in your information in accident re-creation or to be able to provide emergency services."

Hacking threats present another challenge. "Once thought to be impossible, it's not unreasonable to contemplate being crypto-locked out of your car just like a regular computer," Dukarski notes, pointing out that at the 2014 Battelle CyberAuto Challenge, a 14-year-old hacked into a car using spend $15 of parts from Radio Shack, and TV journalist Leslie Stahl demonstrated the same issue in a "60 Minutes" segment.

Named among Michigan Super Lawyers "Rising Stars" and DBusiness "Top Lawyers," Dukarski, who works in the firm's Ann Arbor office, helps clients secure and protect their technology and brand in the health care industry, digital and traditional media, and in the manufacturing and automotive arena, her particular area of expertise.

After earning her undergrad degree in Mechanical Engineering, summa cum laude, from the University of Detroit Mercy, Dukarski spent almost 15 years in design, manufacturing and quality leadership roles in Tier 1 automotive companies. "The pace was exciting and the need to push to release the next design challenged everyone on the launch team," she says. "I still enjoy interacting with leaders in the automotive sector and providing insight on the rapid change of technology and the law."

While in the engineering ranks, she dealt with several product safety issues and found the interaction with the legal team invigorating and challenging. "They didn't always understand the impact of design and quality decisions, at their deepest level," she says. "I thought I would have a unique insight and ability to speak the language of both engineering and the law. From there, I fell in love with the law."

Taking evening classes at UDM Law while holding down a full-time day job, Dukarski wrote and edited on Law Review, competed nationally in Moot Court, and earned her J.D. magna cum laude. "Winning the inaugural National Invitational Championship Tournament in Houston was definitely one of the highlights of my experience at UDM," she says. "I also loved the practical approach the upper division classes took and how they prepared me for the practice."

She relishes the pace of technological change and the impact of disruptive technology. "Whether it's the spread of communications and our interaction on social media, 3D printing of medical devices, or connected cars, I've enjoyed staying abreast of these newly developing areas of the law. I enjoy that these areas are often unsettled and that the parameters of the law change on a daily basis. I research on the technology blogs for legal issues as much as anyone would check Westlaw or Lexis."

She has also reviewed and advised on some of the more challenging recalls and dealt with the intersection of U.S. and international regulatory schemes when parts contain defects.

"Most of the work I've engaged in, whether intellectual property and media cases or automotive recall issues, has been absolutely exciting and invigorating," she says.

Dukarski's trademark cases have drawn the attention and occasionally the ire of one of the top trademark bloggers. One was her first case, a trademark dispute surrounding the TV show "Bitchin' Kitchen," where Dukarski and her colleagues represented the TV network that aired the program against "The Bitchen Kitchen" kitchenware store that filed suit for infringement and was seeking an injunction to bar the airing of the program.

The legal team succeeded in keeping the program on the air, arguing from a First Amendment approach. "The case itself was challenging," Dukarski says. "We appeared in Federal Court on the west side of Michigan and our judge was a tad more conservative than our very liberal, somewhat bawdy 'cooking-comedy.' And the judge wasn't necessarily the type that would likely be the show's demographic.

"In spite of the colorful nature of the case, we were successful in arguing that such an injunction would impermissibly affect the network's free speech rights and result in an overextension of trademark protection. After all, the Sixth Circuit had already ruled that titles of songs could be protected despite trademark registration unless the title had 'no artistic relevance.' We were able to extent this approach to television shows."

Another attention-grabber was her case in front of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, representing a young New York fashion designer in her efforts to retain the rights to use the name "Fairway Fox" for her golf apparel business. The designer started the company and was joined by an investment-minded cousin as they sought to revolutionize women's golf. "It was a marriage of creativity and finance and like many marriages, it was doomed to fail," Dukarski says. "From my client's perspective, she woke up one day and was locked out of the bank account, the website and the entire business. Moreover, her cousin filed to trademark the business that she and her father had named.

"This was a very emotional case with familial tempers running high," she adds. "By digging deep into the nuances of entity formation or in this case, the distinct lack of formation I was able to successfully prevent the new company from being named the proper owner of the mark. It was particularly challenging, because every simple argument required concessions that would give the opposition strength in continuing with the stolen assets and would defeat my client's goal. This case was a significant milestone for me in learning to accept client's decisions and goals, even if it allows a small-win for the opposing party that may create challenges later in the case."

Dukarski shares her experience by teaching Intellectual Property Law as an adjunct professor in the Baker College Paralegal program and has taught at UDM Law. "I enjoy the questions the students ask," she says. "Watching how they question is a great insight on how they learn and process the practical and academic information."

A member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), she also coaches and mentors women engineers in automotive careers.

The Frankenmuth native married her then partner of 10 years in Vermont, five years ago. The couple shares their Plymouth home with Italian Greyhounds named Mr. Darcy and Katherine, and a blue point Siamese called Diarmatt.

An American history buff, Dukarski is a member of the Capitol Page Alumni Society and the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. An avid sports fan, the former fencer enjoys watching Kentucky basketball and the major Detroit sports teams, and playing fantasy football in an all-women's league composed of automotive professionals.

Published: Thu, Jun 11, 2015

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