By Desiree Goff • March 01, 2020•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence
As promised, this month we will be exploring how to work in science adjacent law if you don’t have a scientific or technical background. One of the biggest decisions law students and attorneys starting in their careers face is what area of law they want to practice in. Often this may be influenced by pre-law school training or preference. For example, my gynecologist once informed me that her medical doctor husband was going back to law school and planning to focus his practice in medical mal-practice. Other classmates of mine went into JAG after spending a few years in the military. Still others with relatives in family law planned to go into that field. However, if I had a dime for every time someone mentioned how much they wished they had trained in engineering or a science in undergrad in order to work in patent law, I could have paid for law school with it!
While it isn’t possible to become a registered patent attorney with the United States Patent and Trademark Office without a technical background, there are several ways attorneys can work in intellectual property and patent litigation WITHOUT scientific or technological training. Below is a non-exhaustive list of common areas in which an attorney can work in science-adjacent fields even without specific technological training:
- Trade Secrets
- Patent Litigation
- Medical Malpractice
- Technology Counsel
- Space Law
In general, if you are interested in intellectual property but you don’t have a scientific background, you won’t want to draft patent applications including detailed specifications and claims differentiating a new product from prior art. Music licensing, standards of copyright protecting, determining fair use applications, and litigating trademark and copyright infringements will be far preferable in terms of comfort level and jargon acumen.
If you do want to work closely in patents but you don’t have the technical background necessary, litigation can be an excellent way to accomplish this. Patent litigators can work closely with a trained scientist to handle technical points, but lead in the litigation itself. For example, in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, 569 U.S. 576, 133 S. Ct. 2107 (2013) in which the Supreme Court held that a naturally occurring DNA segment is not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated, but synthetic complimentary DNA (cDNA) is patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring, the lead litigators, Sandra Park and Chris Hansen, were not patent attorneys. While they utilized a trained scientist for the technical understanding, they led in the litigation.
Outside of litigating patent issues, attorneys can also draft licensing and technology transfer agreements and work on patent policy. As a caveat, I consider it a best practice pointer to have a patent attorney or trained scientist review or oversee such agreements to ensure that no technical considerations are lost in the course of negotiations and drafting. Through careful research on up-to-date policies and technology changes, any attorney can work and excel in these areas.
So there you have it - Don’t let a lack of undergraduate scientific training prevent you from finding a niche in patent litigation, intellectual property or other science-based law!
*Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay