Many patent attorneys go years, if not decades, without ever going to trial.
In his first four years as an associate attorney at Leydig Voit & Mayer, Ltd., Michael J. Brandt had two cases go to trial.“
It was great to have that kind of trial experience,” Brandt says. “It helps to paint the big picture of what is going on when you’re working on litigation.” One trial also went to a Federal Circuit appeal.
“I know partners who have been practicing law for 15 years who have never been to trial,” says Brandt, 32. “So to have that experience of going to two patent jury trials and a Federal Circuit appeal, combined with my patent prosecution experience, I feel I have already gotten a very substantial amount of diverse experience.”
Brandt has been interested in patent law since his final year as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, where he earned a degree in general engineering. During his senior year, a Chicago patent attorney delivered a talk on patent law there. Brandt was hooked.
Introduction to Patent Law
“The key thing I remember him saying is that patent law provides the ability to look at a lot of different technologies, particularly cutting-edge technologies.
“I found that captivating — the ability to look at a lot of different materials that provide some variety in the day-to-day work as a patent attorney, but also to be looking at different technologies. You’re looking at innovations, not just your standard, everyday technologies.”
Attending Chicago-Kent College of Law, Brandt was heavily involved with the Intellectual Property Law Society (IPLS). In his second year with the group, he served as the alumni relations chair, helping to organize an alumni resume review. By the third year, he had become president of the chapter, overseeing the organization and leading the drive to increase its membership. By the end of his term, IPLS was among the two largest Chicago-Kent student organizations.
At the end of his first year of law school, Brandt reached out to the same patent attorney who first inspired him about a patent law career. Brandt told him he was about to start working at Leydig as a summer associate. The attorney told him he needed to impress the people at Leydig and focus on providing a quality work product for them.
“I really tried to do that, and it was well received that first summer. It turned into a second summer, and it had a domino effect.” Leydig hired Brandt as an associate upon his graduation from Chicago-Kent in 2011.
Brandt is especially well-regarded by his fellow lawyers at Leydig. “Michael is very engaging,” says H. Michael Hartmann, the former president of and a member at Leydig. “You cannot help but be drawn into a conversation with him. He is very bright and thoughtful, and I think clients and his colleagues very much appreciate the ease with which they can interact with him. He is always eager to meet new clients and cooperate with others. Indeed, he made a point of going to our Frankfurt, Germany, office and worked with our colleagues there.”
Ever the strategic thinker, Brandt had laid the groundwork for a successful career in patent law far earlier. After graduating college and two years before entering law school, he became a patent examiner with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with the
express intent of becoming a patent lawyer.
Brandt went through an eight-month patent training academy, learning the basics of patent law — such as novelty and nonobviousness — all the way through more advanced patent law concepts like handling patent law applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).
Coupling his patent examiner experience with his undergraduate degree, Brandt had a solid background in patent law and the mechanics behind the inventions assigned to him.
Brandt believes a general engineering degree has helped his career, even though it’s a non-traditional choice among patent lawyers. “You see a lot of electrical engineers and mechanical engineers, a lot of chemistry, biology and life sciences degrees,” he says. “General engineering is different as it is a broad-based engineering curriculum. It gives students exposure to a lot of different engineering disciplines, from mechanical engineering to electrical engineering to material science.
“I studied fluid dynamics, control systems, robotics, testing and evaluation. It worked out quite well for me in patent law because every day I look at different technologies, and I need to be able to get up to speed pretty quickly. Having that broad-based general engineering curriculum allows me to be prepared for all sorts of tasks.”
Brandt says everyone at Leydig works on technical specialties based on their backgrounds. Brandt focuses primarily on electromechanical and mechanical subject matters, particularly on the patent prosecution side.
“Michael is one of the most conscientious and detail-oriented lawyers I know,” says Marc R. Wezowski, formerly with Leydig, Voit & Mayer and now a partner at Husch Blackwell LLP. “I recall reading his resume and meeting him when he started at Leydig, and I remember thinking how impressive he was, both on paper and in person, even at such an early stage in his career.At the same time, I also think he’s one of the nicest lawyers around.”
Patent Prosecution, Litigation
Patent law is generally divided into two facets: patent prosecution and patent litigation. Simply put, patent prosecution is the process of obtaining patents, Brandt says. When an inventor comes forth with an idea, the job of the patent prosecutor is to convert that idea into a patent application, file it at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and work with the patent examiner who reviews that application to secure allowance of the application. When that is allowed, the idea becomes a patent.
Patent litigation, on the other hand, comes into play only after the patent has been granted. If someone infringes the patent, the patent owner can sue the alleged infringer for patent infringement. That involves not only legal concepts, Brandt says, but the technical nature of the patent as well.
Going through the patent examining experience allowed Brandt to see the other side of patent prosecution. “I think that’s useful to me every day,” Brandt explains, “whether it is conducting interviews with patent examiners or knowing what motivates patent examiners in certain ways.”
After his first several months as an associate at Leydig, Brandt was put on a patent litigation case, which consumed his time for the next year and a half, going through a jury trial and a Federal Circuit appeal.
“I participated from the fact discovery phase all the way through to the appeal. That was a trial by fire experience, and it basically set the tone for the first several years of my career, with patent litigation taking up about 85 percent of my time and the remaining 15 percent being patent prosecution.”
Those figures have flipped in the last couple of years, with Brandt now doing patent prosecution about 85 percent of the time. Brandt likes the change because it follows the pattern of other patent attorneys at Leydig who are well experienced in all aspects of patent law.
“Working both fields develops people into better counselors when you are aware of the process from an idea’s conception to the appeal of a district court decision,” he says. “You can provide better advice to clients.”
One of Brandt’s most interesting cases involved neither patent prosecution nor traditional patent litigation. It was a contract dispute in which he represented a former employee who left a company and started to develop his own ideas and inventions, filing patent applications on them. The company thought it owned some of those applications, with the dispute centering on what the contract said and who owned the ideas.
“We secured a favorable result for our client,” Brandt says. “It was nice because anytime you can vindicate someone’s rights for them, whether it is ownership of a concept or patent application, or when someone wants to file a patent application securing broad protection for them, I find that to be pretty rewarding.”
Brandt’s success has gained him membership in the Richard Linn American Inn of Court, a Chicago-based IP-focused group. “The idea of the Inns of Court is to get a whole cross section of the legal profession, from judges to students and everyone in between,” Brandt says. “So there are students, as well as junior attorneys, and that’s another opportunity I have to help out those individuals as they start out on their law careers.”
Roshan P. Shrestha, Ph.D., an attorney at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, has witnessed both the professional and personal sides of Michael Brandt over the last five years. “Michael is very detail oriented, thoughtful of clients’ needs and meticulous in his work. Outside of work, he is very active in the IP practitioners’ community. He is also conscious of social good, and he contributes time and funds to social causes such as Apna Ghar , Inc., a Chicago-based domestic violence prevention and support
non-profi t, which provides holistic services and advocacy to end gender violence.”
Equally rewarding for Brandt is mentoring law students, which he tries to do regularly. “It goes back to my involvement in IPLS at Chicago-Kent and spearheading that alumni resume review activity. For me, the idea of mentoring law students and junior attorneys just ties into the bigger picture of helping others.” Having that broad-based general engineering curriculum allows me to be prepared for all sorts of tasks.”
Diversity Needed in Patent Law
Brandt says one case of mentoring which made a huge impression on him involved a law student who was a non-native English speaker. “It’s a tough road when you are basically trying to jump start your career in a field where the command of the English
language is so pivotal to everything you do on a daily basis.” He says the student was a perfect example of the need for diversity in the patent law field.
“Bringing diverse viewpoints to patent law helps improve the overall practice. If you have a diverse perspective of a number of people, you’re likely going to come up with a better overall solution. What I try to do,” Brandt explains, “is look at more nontraditional ways of helping the students build up their resumes, whether that is through extracurricular activities or other matters.”
Brandt recognized the importance of diversity early when he worked for General Electric Oil and Gas in Florence, Italy, in the summer of 2006 before he started as a patent examiner.
“While it was a short internship, it gave me the opportunity to work with a very diverse group of people. They were from Italy, Hungary and India, and that was the first glimpse I saw on how different perspectives make for a much stronger overall team.”
Brandt and his wife, who have been married for two years, live in the West Loop. His abiding interest in diversity extends to his personal life: The two spend their vacations traveling to different parts of the world.
“We enjoy traveling to locations that offer rich cultural experiences,” Brandt says. “We went to the Seychelles, which is a collection of islands in the Indian Ocean on the east side of Africa. It’s a really interesting place because it offers a combination of French, Indian and African cultures all in one spot. It’s so different from anything you would see here in the Midwest.”
They’ve also traveled to the island of Bali and the more cosmopolitan Hong Kong. Brandt is very grateful that his travels have shaped his career as a patent lawyer. “It all ties into broadening your cultural view, one which offers a more diverse perspective on life in general, and not just patent law.”
This article originally appeared in Emerging Lawyers Magazine for 2016 and has been reprinted with permission.