Road less traveled


Patent attorney follows interesting career path

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

During law school, Dean Amburn imagined intellectual property law would be boring.

He couldn't have been more wrong - and has enjoyed several years in this field.

"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 said.

An attorney at Howard & Howard Attorneys in Royal Oak, where he focuses 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 said.

He went on to earn his J.D. from the University of Detroit Mercy, then 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 said. "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 won several cases, mostly involving unfavorable facts and serious injuries or death.

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, he worked on patent applications for 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 went inside a clean room where semi-conductor manufacturing was taking place.

He has also had success litigating patent infringement, trade secret misappropriation and trademark infringement cases.

"Litigating IP cases is a lot of fun. Each case has its own challenges and opportunities," noted 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 explained.

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.

Amburn, who previously taught a class at Cooley Law, provides practical advice in his 2013 publication, "IP Strategies for Business Managers."

Amburn and his wife Laurie have two sons: David, a student at MSU, and Brian who will join his brother in Spartan territory.

Published: Mon, Jun 01, 2015