Patent attorney relishes being on the 'ground floor' of innovation

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IP Attorney Bob Siminski is pictured with a client inside a Chinese tooling plant on one  of many trips to the Far East.

by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

In his student days at Detroit College of Law (now MSU College of Law), Bob Siminski was encouraged to think about a career in patent and intellectual property law. 

“My professors sensed it was an up and coming legal field, but I’m sure they had no idea how big it would become,” he says. “Various technologies such as personal computing, telecommunications, biotechnology were just beginning to take off... and technology minded lawyers were in hot demand.”

Good timing for Siminski, who is now a principal in the Detroit Metro office of the global IP firm of Harness Dickey. Among the hundreds of patents he has obtained for clients, he has drafted and prosecuted chemical patents relating to adhesives, coatings, conductive materials, films, foams, nanotechnology, pharmaceuticals and small molecules, and, on the mechanical side, obtained patents relating to dental and medical devices, athletic equipment, fastening systems, games and toys, tools, micro-valves, and oil and natural gas technologies.

His favorite part of the job is working with creative people  – “people who are passionate about their creations and sometimes come up with something so novel that they are about to start and grow a business out of an idea,” he says. “That in turn provides jobs for people and helps them put food on the table. Being in on the ground floor of this is what I enjoy most.”

One patent case in particular stands out, for a scientist at Raytheon.  “He was a true rocket scientist and had discovered a new rocket fuel formulation that showed dramatic improvement over the fuels that NASA had been using. He was a scary smart guy,” Siminski says. “By working together, we were able to explain his invention in a patent application that ultimately issued as a patent. Not only did the technology become globally adopted, but the patent we obtained was regarded by many scientific organizations as one of the top 10 patents issued in the world that year.”

Siminski also provides litigation support, due diligence, IP portfolio analyses, strategic counseling, and valuation support services. One memorable litigation involved the owner of a small chemical company sued by a huge chemical company for patent infringement. Siminski and his client met with executives and lawyers from the big company, who explained in great detail why this businessman was infringing their patents, how much they were going to charge him if he didn’t quit, and who else they intended to go after.

“After they finished their lengthy diatribe, they asked me to explain why they shouldn’t come down on my client like a ton of bricks,” Siminiski says. “I smiled and replied we would get back to them, then my client and I packed up our bags and left. They were furious! My client was confused why I didn’t jump up and down and refute everything... I explained everything we had learned that day and pointed out that there was no way we were going to reason with them the way they approached this meeting. After thinking about it for a minute, my client just smiled.”

A few weeks later, Siminski served the big chemical company with a complaint for patent infringement.

“What they didn’t know was that we were diligently working to acquire some patents we strongly believed the big chemical company was infringing,” he explains. “We also brought the suit in a court notorious for bringing cases to trial quickly, knowing our case would be heard long before theirs. A few weeks later, the big chemical company agreed to drop its lawsuits against my client and we agreed to drop our lawsuit against them… as soon as we received their sizable settlement check!”

As vice-chair of the Intellectual Property Owners Association Asian Practice Committee, Siminski has traveled to Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan and India, with Singapore a future trip.

 “Serving as vice-chair is truly an honor – I get to work closely with key decision makers from various companies, evaluating what changes are coming in different Asian countries and how these changes can influence business decisions for years to come,” he says. “I also get to meet with extremely high level government officials from other countries to discuss legal policies and procedures. Last year, I got to meet in chambers with some justices of the Supreme People’s Court of China and talk about changes coming under Chinese law. While I doubt I’ll get a chance to do this with justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, you never know.”

Siminski notes that IP laws are changing rapidly in China and elsewhere – adding that in view of the huge market opportunity for many multinational companies, it’s important to keep up-to-date and have a network of local legal professionals to call upon.

“On occasion, business challenges arise, but with some creativity and a willingness to understand other people’s customs and traditions they can usually be worked out.”

A member of the Harness Dickey team for over two decades, Siminski is an active lecturer and contributing author of three books: The Innovation Superstar Workbook; The Innovation Playbook: A Revolution in Business Excellence; and The Digital Innovation Playbook: Creating a Transformative Customer Experience.

His career choice has been a perfect fit for someone who always enjoyed science and understanding how things work. After earning his bachelor’s in chemistry from the University of Detroit, where he was captain and MVP of the varsity golf team, he worked in the oil/natural gas industry as a Quality Control Chemist, conducting analyses on soil and water for environmental contamination, directing tests on fuel recovery and designing a recovery system.

Deciding that working in a fairly isolated chemistry lab wasn’t his lifelong career choice. Siminski looked into other options. “Law school wasn’t really top of mind, but I took the Law School Admission Test on a whim and did really well on it - I took that as a sign,” he said with a laugh.

Outside the office, Siminski enjoys watching his sons play competitive AAU basketball and serves on the board of Oakland Christian School. He also tries to get in a golf game whenever possible.
“Still pretty good - 4.0 handicap at Indianwood Country Club – but nowhere near as good as when I was younger,” he says. “I think I’m a much better lawyer now than I was when I was younger though, so I’ll take the trade-off.”