Meet Paul, Patent Attorney
Paul Tanpitukpongse is an engineer-turned-patent attorney currently working with Meunier, Carlin & Curfman LLC, a legal firm located in Atlanta, GA. A self-described ‘tinkerer’, Paul participated in the automotive club, science fairs and engineering competitions in high school. These extra-curricular endeavors coupled with strong STEM skills led to his first career as an engineer. As an advocate for continual learning and following one’s passions, Paul decided to then pursue a career in the legal field.. He has found success as a practicing patent attorney for five years now.
Can you tell us a bit more about your impressive and varied technical background?
I completed my undergraduate training at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. I started off as a biomedical engineering major with a concentration in signal processing and electrical engineering.ack then, a lot of my friends were aspiring electrical engineers and computer scientists. Thanks in part to their influence, I ended up taking a lot of courses in those fields. By my third year, I realized I had enough credits to pursue a second degree in Electrical Engineering.
Immediately after graduation, I joined General Electric in a technology apprenticeship program called the Edison Engineering Development Program. The premise being that, within the company, I would rotate through various organizations that deal with different technology in order to learn about the types of technology and products the company was involved in.
At the same time, GE had offered to pay for my graduate studies, so I pursued a masters in electrical engineering while working for them. I ended up staying at GE for eight years as an electrical engineer. I worked on technology development; things like renewable energy, military systems, medical devices, among other projects. I was always a technologist at heart, so it was definitely an interesting time in my career.
What motivated you to make the switch to a legal career?
The last couple of years I worked as an engineer, I held more of a managerial position. More specifically, I was leading projects regarding renewable energy. There was a lot of innovation and we had the opportunity to work with GE’s in-house legal counsel to protect the intellectual property that was coming out of that work. It was really that interaction that opened my eyes to the possibility of working with patents. I also knew of friends who had rerouted into a career as a patent attorney, so it was something that once the idea seeded, I kept on exploring, and found it to be really attractive.
Ultimately, it was a combination of the intellectual challenge, and my realization of the importance of intellectual property rights that attracted me to a legal career in patent law. The company’s development of the invention is significant, but the opportunity to be really engaged in the decision-making process, regarding how they choose to commercialize a product, was something I found fascinating and intellectually stimulating. And as I delve deeper into this field, I just find it to be more and more interesting!
What were the steps you took to transition from a technical to legal career?
In order to pursue a career in law, first I had to take the standardized LSAT, and complete three years of law school. I went to a law school with a speciality for intellectual property law: the University of New Hampshire School of Law. While studying, I spent my summers working at law firms, specifically trying to gain experience around patent drafting and prosecution of patents.
After graduating, I took the summer off to prepare for the bar, then I took my first permanent position after law school was with a firm in Massachusetts called Choate, Hall & Stewart. This first job was definitely the hardest to land. I did it by methodically going through the normal avenues of how to find a job in law school: job fairs, working with the career office… but also trying to identify law firms representing clients that deal with the technology I was particularly interested in. Since my background is in electrical and biomedical engineering, I narrowed my search to law firms that had represented companies focused in these technologies.
Recently my wife took a position with a company in Atlanta, and seeing that Atlanta has a very vibrant intellectual property law community, I decided to move my practice here and now I’m happily at the law firm of Meunier, Carlin & Curfman LLC.
Can you take us through the typical ‘life-cycle’ of a case?
Well, at a very high level, a patent attorney safeguards the intellectual property rights of people responsible for an invention: an entrepreneur, company, or university. This involves a confluence of many different aspects of law: patent law, copyright, contract, property, and some litigation services. That being said, 99 percent of the job is writing, whether that means writing a specific document for the client, counseling the client on the patent application process, or some other task.
On a typical case, I would begin working with an inventor/engineer/scientist/entrepreneur, to write a patent application for their invention. This application is then filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office, which examines the patent applications and decides if it meets the requirements for the issuance of a patent.
During the examination process, I act on behalf of the client, to argue on their behalf and demonstrate that their invention has met the requirements for a patent. This involves writing responses to questions posed by the USPTO, working with the inventor and their invention, and being able to articulate their position in a clear and persuasive manner to the examiner who is reviewing the case.
Even once the patent has been issued for the invention, I continue to work with the client to enforce this patent, as they try to commercialize their invention.
What do you love most about your job?
Our lives are continually being transformed by innovations, often very big and exciting ones, like harnessing energy from the sun, wind, tides, or making major advances in medicine. Today, technology is so pervasive in every facet of our lives that it is easy to forget that, at one point, these technologies did not exist.
As a patent attorney, I get to work with self-driven (and usually very smart!) people who solve problems by coming up with an idea that has never existed before. I find the most rewarding aspect is having the opportunity to work with these people… it is just very humbling and exciting to be a part of the innovation process. In many regards, I get to be one of the first people to see the future!
What would you say is your proudest personal achievement?
Regarding personal achievements, I believe there is something to be proud of at every stage on one’s life. Certainly, I was very proud when I finished law school, and passed the bar exams in Massachusetts and New York. I was very proud to have gotten a position as a patent attorney at a law firm. Even as an engineer, I was very proud to work on various engineering projects.
The thing that’s most important is to find achievement and success in whatever you are doing. Take your career seriously and have pride in your work. It is really the culmination of all many “smaller” successes that I think builds up into something much larger and grander.
How do you set yourself apart from the competition, as a patent attorney?
A patent attorney’s work speaks for him/her. We spend most of our time writing, and I would say most of the clients we deal with are very sophisticated. They can often gauge the value and efficacy of the attorney who is representing them.
So, I’ve found that a very good way to market my practice is by focusing on delivering really strong and excellent results. That’s what I need to do first. Then I go out and meet folks, and try to understand their problems and find ways to be a part of their solution. That could mean getting involved in professional organizations,volunteering, or finding other ways to meet people (networking). What it really comes down to is finding ways to deliver high-quality, excellent work.
Any last words of advice to students who may consider pursuing a career as a patent attorney?
The greatest thing that anyone can do for themselves, is to continue to learn. Take whatever it is that you are doing seriously, and the small successes you attain will ultimately culminate into large ones. I find that being a PA is one of the most rewarding careers that I have engaged in; this career has met all the expectations I had when I first pursued it.
That being said, nobody really knows what it is they want to do when they are growing up, or even once they’ve grown up, in many cases. You really have to take it upon yourself to get out there and talk to people and figure out what is available out there. From there, pursue the options in front of you that you find to be the most interesting, and that you are most passionate about.
I think it is also important that you don’t set up obstacles for yourself. Growing up, I didn’t believe I could ever be a lawyer, but it really came about as an opportunity after having practiced as an engineer for a couple of years. Ultimately, I would say a critical part of all this is to never stop learning, and don’t be afraid to try new things, especially professionally.
Thank you so much Paul, for taking time away from your heavy caseload to share your experiences and advice with the aspiring attorneys of Gladeo. We are attorney-ly grateful!