Patent attorney took the road less traveled on his career path

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

During law school, Dean Amburn imagined Intellectual Property law would be dull and boring. He couldn’t have been more wrong – and has enjoyed several years in this field, relishing the challenges of drafting patent applications for inventions, and litigating disputes.

“I’ve enjoyed not only the opportunity to work on complex matters, but also to help clients work through difficult issues and counsel and encourage them for what are often-times challenging business matters,” he says.

An attorney at Howard & Howard Attorneys in Royal Oak, where he focuses his practice on intellectual property protection and litigation, Amburn describes his career path as “the road less traveled.” After earning his undergrad degree in mathematics and psychology from Michigan State University, he found success as a computer consultant and programmer – but felt something was missing.

His mother suggested law school, something he had not previously considered. 

“But being an attorney not only fits my personality, it works well with my interests in arguing a point, particularly for the little guy, and counseling people with difficult problems,” he says. 

He went on to earn his J.D. from the University of Detroit Mercy.

“Unfortunately, my mom didn’t see me finish what she started,” he says. “After a long battle with breast cancer, she died just before I finished my first year.”

After graduation, Amburn worked as a personal injury attorney at Geoffrey Fieger’s law firm – “a fast-paced, front-line continuous battle that gave me invaluable experience that many younger attorneys never have,” he says. “I remember working on some of the most difficult heartbreaking personal injury cases and facing off against some of the toughest defense attorneys in town.” 

His learning experience included assisting Fieger at trial and working on cases resulting in multimillion dollar verdicts or settlements.

He then switched sides, working at Kohl Secrest where he represented individuals and companies sued as a result of alleged wrongdoing. The cases involved personal injuries and fatalities.  He had opportunity to jury-try and win several cases, mostly involving unfavorable facts and serious injuries or death. 

“As I became more experienced I was given more difficult cases including cases involving death or injury to children. At the time I had two young sons.” 
Deciding he didn’t want to spend his career dealing with death and injury, Amburn reconsidered what he thought about IP law while in law school. In 2000 he took and passed the patent bar exam on his first attempt and began a new career in IP law.

At the time, he was interested in pursuing his own patent protection of an idea for trading securities, by developing algorithms and having a computer make decisions of when to buy and sell – an idea that fit well within his tech background, and with the heightened interest in the late ’90s in security trading with many hot IPOs skyrocketing after their opening day. He is now the inventor on four patents and is working towards commercializing his idea.

Amburn embraced the transition to IP law and quickly realized his niche working on drafting patent applications for inventions and litigating complex IP
disputes.

During his first job in this field, he worked on patent applications for large companies, including Black & Decker, Chrysler, and Boeing, with art areas that included components for hand-held tools, software related applications, and on-board aircraft technologies for connecting computers to the Internet. He also represented high tech companies and had the opportunity to go inside a clean room where semi-conductor manufacturing was taking place.  

“I’ve worked on many different art areas with the greatest focus on software related applications,” he says. 

Amburn has also had success litigating many IP cases over his career including cases involving patent infringement, trade secret misappropriation and trademark infringement. 

“Litigating IP cases is a lot of fun. Each case has its own challenges and opportunities,” notes Amburn, who is named this year among Best Lawyers in America, a Top Lawyer by dbusiness Magazine, IP Star by Managing IP Magazine, in Leading Lawyers, and has an AV (preeminent) rating by Martindale-Hubbell. 

He finds trade secret cases can be particularly demanding and complex.

“Typically, the parties have a great deal of emotion in their belief that they were wronged, usually by a former employee that left to work for a competitor,” he explains.

In current cases, he frequently cites as legal authority court decisions made in his previous cases. 

Patent cases are equally stimulating and fun, he adds – including matters that go before the International Trade Commission, which regulates and can prevent importation of goods that infringe a valid patent. Amburn explains that he is grateful for the opportunity to work on IP cases and help his clients. 

As an inventor who hopes to succeed as an entrepreneur, he is interested in helping others do the same. He was an excellent choice to serve as master of ceremonies at a one-day Patent Camp last October for entrepreneurs in Midland, sponsored by the Mid-Michigan Innovation Center. He and some colleagues discussed various aspects of IP protection and provided an outline to help inventors prepare and file a provisional patent application. 
  
Amburn, who previously taught a class at Cooley Law, provides practical advice in his 2013 publication, “IP Strategies for Business Managers.” He contributed a chapter in “Lessons From The Field: Leading Intellectual Property Lawyers Share Case Studies & Best Practices,” and in 2012 contributed to the national publication, “Inside the Minds: Litigation Strategies for Intellectual Property Cases.”

Amburn grew up in Wyandotte and graduated from Roosevelt High School, where his mother taught typing and shorthand. His father, a WWII vet, spent more than 30 years working at the Chrysler Trenton Engine Plant. An older sister became a computer systems analyst at a major bank.

“My parents worked hard to support us and made it clear that hard work and perseverance were the keys to success, and family is what matters most,” he says.

His own family in Commerce Township includes his wife Laurie, a nurse with Henry Ford Health System, and sons David, a student at MSU, and Brian who will join his brother in Spartan territory this fall.

“Laurie has been a rock of support throughout my career,” Amburn says.

Reflecting back, Amburn is happy to have taken the career road less traveled and thanks his mom for her suggestion made more than 25 years ago. 
“I think she would be proud of what I have accomplished, and happy with how her suggestion resulted in where I am today,” he says.