Patent attorney previously served in the Peace Corps

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

As someone who enjoys building things and learning how various items work, Joe Barber majored in electrical engineering at Northwestern University. His electrical engineering studies included a focus on physics and the practical application of physics principles.

“My original career plan was to physically create things. In practice, however, an engineering degree was too cloistered and lab-focused—I needed more collaboration and interpersonal interaction than what I saw as a future engineer,” says Barber, now a partner at Howard & Howard in Royal Oak, where he focuses his practice on intellectual property protection and litigation, and complex commercial litigation.

“Law has allowed me to still create—arguments instead of tangible products—but through a different medium. It’s also a very logically driven profession and the skills are translatable.”

After undergrad, Barber tested the waters of the legal world as a paralegal for Prairie State Legal Services in Rockford, Ill.

“Working for a legal aid society allowed me to represent individuals at agency and administrative hearings as a law degree is not required,” he says. “I was able to learn how to construct arguments and generally represent clients in an adversarial setting. The hands-on training was invaluable.” 

He then spent two years in the Peace Corps in Ghana, West Africa, teaching high school math and science and serving a consultant to the Ministry of Education in the implementation of a novel literacy program in the primary school system.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to live in a small village in the rainforest of Africa. It’s a completely different way of living life. It’s a cliché, but it really did allow me to obtain a new perspective on life and what is important,” he says. “As a teacher, I tried to impart the benefit of knowledge and helped to bring science to life through practical hands-on experiments.

“As a consultant to an NGO and the Ministry of Education, I worked with local education officers on proper monitoring of aid to ensure that money was accounted for and the department could point to tangible success of the programs. I also helped train young local teachers on their teaching techniques.”

Returning stateside, Barber earned his J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Illinois College of Law, where he was editor-in-chief of the Elder Law Journal. During this time, he also worked as an intern with Chicago Volunteer Legal Services where he represented low-income clients in Cook County Domestic Relations and Probate Court.

He then spent three years with The Patterson Law Firm LLC in Chicago, where he was named for four consecutive years among Illinois Super Lawyers, “Rising Stars.”

During his time in the Windy City, Barber obtained a dismissal of a breach of contract action against a human resources software company in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

“The plaintiff claimed breach of a settlement agreement through a clumsy attempt at a poison-pill clause,” he explains. “We carefully and clearly argued the plain language of the agreement could not support the plaintiff’s theory. The court agreed and dismissed the action. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals summarily affirmed the District Court.”     

Barber also obtained a favorable settlement in a patent infringement lawsuit on behalf of an inventor in the Eastern District of Texas after a successful claim construction hearing; and obtained dismissal of a trademark infringement action against a manufacturing company in the Northern District of Illinois after previously defeating a motion for a temporary restraining order. The plaintiff asserted trademark infringement through meta tags to direct online shopping search results; Barber and his team successfully argued to the court that the plaintiff’s allegations were based on speculation and contained no factual support.

More locally, in the Eastern District of Michigan, Barber carefully managed pretrial motion practice in a trademark infringement and false advertising case to significantly reduce the possible damages available to the plaintiff, thereby leading to a favorable settlement.

Barber joined Howard & Howard in November 2011.  He represents clients in all aspects of intellectual property protection and enforcement; and has experience litigating patent and trademark matters in federal courts throughout the country and before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. He also represents clients in complex commercial disputes as well as in business defamation, fraud, tortious interference, and breach of contract matters.    

“In my experience, most engineers-turned-lawyers in IP law do more patent preparation and prosecution—the actual obtaining of patents,” Barber says. “Fewer are litigators. Being an engineer as well as a litigator sets me apart—I hope—as someone that understands the technology and at the same time can explain the technology to judges and juries.”

Barber’s engineering background helps most in engaging with the engineering departments of large clients.

“There are few litigators that understand the technical aspect of the client’s work,” he says. “Much as with the ultimate presentation to the trier of fact, I think my experience as an engineer helps me more effectively distil the technology to a winning argument.”

A member of the American Intellectual Property Law Association and Federal Bar Association, Eastern District of Michigan Chapter, and previously a member of the Chicago Bar Association where he chaired the Commercial Litigation Committee, Barber is also a member of the Oakland County Bar Association, where he enjoys networking with attorneys and judges.

Barber makes his home in Bloomfield Hills, with his wife Kate—also a lawyer—and their children, ages 2 and 5. His leisure pursuits include golf and spending time with the family.


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