By design: Patent attorney draws on computer engineering smarts

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

When Hemant Keskar was preparing to attend engineering school, the first microprocessor had just hit the market.

“It was an 8-bit microprocessor — minuscule compared to what we have today, but I knew it was the beginning of a boom in computer technology,” said Keskar, now a patent attorney with Harness Dickey in Troy. “It felt like an exciting field to get into.”    

Keskar spent more than five years as a computer design engineer in his native India before moving to the U.S. and setting up his own computer service company in Metro Detroit.   

“It was fun to be in R&D as a design engineer. I was able to use everything I learned in school and work with a team of people who were trained like I was,” he said. “It takes a lot of resources and capital to be a design engineer or own a business with an R&D team, though, so when I struck out on my own I decided to focus on service.    

“Things often break, and in India, we didn’t have replacement parts back then, so I had to fix complicated circuits often without circuit diagrams or an oscilloscope, just with a multi-meter to check voltage and circuit continuity. In the service business, I was able to learn many different things and stay current on all of the latest technologies and systems, such as high-end printers and plotters, both of which are mechanically challenging to repair. This allowed me to broaden my horizons in a fantastic way. Being my own boss wasn’t so bad, either.”   

Then came the burst of the Internet bubble in the early 2000s.

“Computer technology and service was becoming a commodity, and selling PCs was increasingly difficult because customers would go wherever the best prices were,” Keskar said.    

Closing his business in Metro Detroit, he decided to switch gears and get an MBA. Enrolling in a program at Walsh College in Troy, he took a class about legal issues in management that was taught by an experienced lawyer. He was hooked immediately.   

“Patent law appealed to me directly because it meant I could still use all of my technical training and experience,” he said. “I knew it would mean a big career shift, but it wasn’t a total career change. I’d always been interested in electrical and computer technology, and bio-medical technology was another big interest, so it was an easy, natural choice to switch from the MBA program to law school.”    

Keskar’s computer background allows him to better relate to other designers, developers and inventors.

“I think we share a common temperament,” he said. “Having that hands-on experience allows me to build trust and rapport, and really see the invention from their perspective.”   

Keskar has seen first-hand the amazing evolution of the tech industry.

“When I started as a student in the ‘80s, we used 10-megabyte removable disk drives. A lot of the hardware I used as a student belongs in a museum now,” he said.    

“Technology today, by contrast, has grown by several orders of magnitude. The capabilities of microprocessors and memory capacities have grown exponentially. It’s not an understatement to say that cell phones today are pocket-sized super computers compared to what we had in the 80s.”   

Keskar thoroughly enjoys talking to inventors about semiconductor manufacturing equipment and processes, wireless network security, all kinds of sensors and transducers, and writing patent applications for related inventions involving an interplay of many scientific disciplines, “which at times include aspects of mechanical, electrical, chemical engineering, and material and life sciences — all in a single invention,” he said.

Keskar notes a good number of patent examiners at the USPTO have backgrounds in computer technology fields, and, just like relating to his clients, being able to relate to examiners is a big part of his job.    

“Finding that common ground certainly makes my job easier, and it’s a big advantage for our clients,” he said. “Having worked first-hand with ancient technology and growing up with it as it evolved, I strike a chord with some examiners who are impressed by my depth of actual experience versus book knowledge. Persuasion becomes easier when someone likes you.”    

A native of Mumbai, India, Keskar moved to Michigan in 1989, and now makes his home in Ann Arbor with his wife Amy — a therapist and Ironman triathlete — and 7-year-old daughter Maya, who is fascinated with patent law.

“She’s athletic and bright like her mom, calls me ‘old man’ already, and wants to become a famous inventor. I’ll be her patent attorney, of course,” he said with a smile.   

Looking to give back to the community, Keskar has approached the principal at his daughter’s school about talking to the children about technology and law.

“It’s so much fun when the children fire questions at you and you have to come down to their level and answer them,” he said.

In his leisure time, Keskar enjoys reading biographies about statesmen and women as well as famous scientists and inventors.

“I started reading about the Founding Fathers and U.S. history after I finished law school because, coming from India, a lot of the U.S. constitutional law was so different from what I was used to,” he says. “It was a big cultural hurdle for me to overcome during law school, but I persevered through it and, after law school, when I actually had time to read the history behind it, I became fascinated. Now I read about more contemporary politicians and inventors. The books about Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein by Walter Isaacson are two of my favorites.”    

Singing is another passion. Keskar does karaoke versions of songs he listened to and sang when growing up in India, some dating back to the 1950s.

“Signing in Hindi is very different than western music,” he says. “I record my songs as well and send them to friends.”   

Keskar’s major interest is running, and he has taken part in about a dozen marathons over the past decade.

“I thrive on the challenge running a marathon poses,” he says. “It’s very similar to writing a patent application or negotiating with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to get the application to issue as a patent. It’s a long hard struggle, but there are always smiling, happy faces when the race is over or when we obtain a new patent for the client.”

He cut back on running after his daughter was born, but is now getting back into it. Last fall, he ran the North Country Trail Marathon in Manistee.   

“My goal is to run two marathons a year, mainly trail marathons instead of the big marathons where people run on roads and paved streets,” he says. “For me, trail marathons are more mentally stimulating — they also take less of a toll on the body, which I’m beginning to appreciate more and more!”

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