Career surge: Area attorney draws on his electrical engineering work


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

In fourth grade, Sam Fares disassembled the family VCR to see what was inside.

“Even though I broke the VCR, the discovery was worth it,” he says. “This ‘nerdiness’ remains with me today. The other day, after my daughter brought me her toy, which has been acting up, I checked the batteries with a digital multi-meter to see whether they had the proper voltage.”   

The “nerdiness” and passion for tinkering with electronics and computers, culminating in an undergrad degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan, has paid off in his law career.   

A patent law attorney with Howard & Howard in Royal Oak, Fares counsels clients in numerous technologies including surgical and medical devices, robotics, control systems, software and business methods, computer technology, and communication systems.

“A particularly interesting patent involves using augmented reality to automatically keep track of items placed in a shopping cart and following navigation instructions directing the shopper to the fastest checkout lane based on those items,” he says.   

During his U-M studies, Fares worked at Visteon Automotive as a software engineer co-op for BMW infotainment applications. After graduation, he was an electrical design and release engineer for Delphi Corp., and an electrical systems engineer for Sumitomo Electric Wiring Systems, where he designed and developed electrical distribution systems in support of Ford Motor Co.’s Explorer program.   

He enjoyed seeing the electrical products he was involved with designing eventually finding their way into cars that family, neighbors, and friends would be driving.

“Cars are usually among the top largest purchases consumers make,” he says. “Although I’m sometimes desensitized to this fact because I was born and raised in the Motor City and surrounded by the Big 3, it was gratifying to be part of a product that affects the lives of so many.”

But Fares didn’t see this as a lifelong career.

“While engineering has its rewards, there’s a tendency to become complacent working on a specific part or system,” he says. “On the other hand, patent law exposes me to a myriad of different technologies. On any single day, I might work on a control algorithm for a robot, an electrical circuit for an automotive control system, and a software application for mobile navigation.”

Patent law, however, wasn’t always in his sights.

“I knew what patents were, but didn’t realize there’s a mini-universe of attorneys with requisite technical degrees working with patents,” he says. “Once a family friend and lawyer introduced me to the idea, I remember getting butterflies in my stomach because I knew it was the right career path for me.”   

While interning at Howard & Howard, Fares took evening classes at Wayne State University Law School, earning his J.D., cum laude, in 2013. He enjoyed the camaraderie with fellow night owls.

“In my opinion, evening students are a different breed than day students,” he says. “Many of us had full time jobs and families. Also, the evening course selection was somewhat limited, so most of us were aligned in the same courses over the years.

“It can be quite a grind going to work all day and attending dense courses, sometimes until 9 or 10 p.m., all while finding time to prepare for class, study for exams and maintain a normal family and social life. Knowing we were all in this together, my fellow classmates helped me get through these tough times, and I continue to maintain my relationship with many of them.”

Attending law school while interning at Howard & Howard was a defining time in his career, he adds.

“Our intern program is no cakewalk. In fact, our firm’s use of the term intern is more like that of a medical intern, meaning an attorney in-training similar to a physician in-training. I sometimes joke with my colleagues that since I started my career an IP intern, I was ‘born’ at H&H.”

Since the intern program quickly exposed Fares to serious work in patent law, law school quickly became a means to accomplish his goal.

“For example, finishing a patentability opinion for an invention took priority over putting in additional effort to study cases for criminal law,” he says.

Although the simultaneous demands were challenging, it was well worth the struggle.

“The program prepared me to hit the ground running when I graduated and eventually became an associate at our firm,” he says. “The hard work, skill development, and firm integration I learned as an intern created a smooth road for eventually becoming a partner.”

Fares finds he does as much—if not more—engineering than in his prior career field.

“I never thought that as a lawyer I would be referencing my textbooks from engineering undergrad, such as circuits and microelectronics, as much as I do,” he says. “We work with bright technical minds who are inventing cutting-edge technology in their respective fields. Protecting these state-of-the-art ideas, while at the same time, reinforcing my electrical engineering roots is a gratifying part of my career.”

He adds that patent lawyers serve as a bridge between the purely technical world of engineering and the hybrid technical-legal world of patent law.

“Engineers speak the same language,” he explains. “As an attorney, it’s critical I speak the language of the engineers in order to bridge this legal-technical gap.”   

The key, he says, is to ask the right technical questions to facilitate the proper legal analysis. He recalls a nerve-wracking teleconference with three Ph.D.s about an invention relating to a specific MRI imaging method. By thinking outside the box and asking the right questions, Fares inspired the inventors to come up with a different way to perform the method.

“Through this synergetic process, I was able to draft patent claims that covered their invention with even greater scope than expected,” he says. “Afterwards, I recall the lead Ph.D. telling me how impressed he was that I was able to keep up. This was among the most rewarding compliments I received to date as a patent lawyer.”   

A Dearborn Heights native who now makes his home in Canton with his wife Samar, 4-year-old daughter Noor, and 9-month-old Adam, Fares enjoys the diversity of the greater Detroit area.

“Detroit is home to so many cultures, traditions and beliefs—I’m thankful this has given me the world-perspective and open-mindedness towards others with backgrounds different than my own,” he says. “Together, our differences make Detroit a strong community.”   

He also enjoys the passion Detroiters have for local sports teams.

“Fans are loyal whether the team is winning or losing,” he says. “A Lions fan will be watching the game on Sunday no matter how poorly the season is going.”    

Prior to his law career, Fares worked as a deejay for nearly a decade at dance clubs, weddings, school dances, and concerts.

“The best part was the ability to control how much fun people have at a party simply by playing the right song at the right time,” he says.   

As a backyard amateur astronomer, Fares makes sure to take a glance at the night sky on clear nights and makes family nights out of astrological events like lunar eclipses.

“Lugging out my Dobsonian telescope can be back-breaking considering that it weighs 50 pounds and has an optical tube length of 48 inches,” he says. “Astronomy satisfies my need to explore existential questions like the origin of the universe and helps remind me of how small our place is in the universe.”