Wayne State student aims for career in patent prosecution

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

For a long time, Melissa Chapman didn’t feel the law was a viable career path.

How wrong she was.

While studying psychology and biology in undergrad at the Florida Institute of Technology, she was shocked to find how much she enjoyed a few introductory law classes.

And during her master’s program in higher education at Easter Michigan University, she worked part time in education — a field she viewed as a long-term career — while also working part time at the Dobrusin Law Firm in Pontiac, first as an intellectual property legal assistant and then as an IP law clerk.

“I quickly found myself enjoying the work at the law firm more and more,” she said. “I decided to continue working at the law firm after my master’s program to gain more exposure to the field and make sure I was confident in pursuing a law degree before investing in it.”

Working at the Dobrusin Law Firm prior to law school sparked Chapman’s interest in intellectual property.

“The longer I stayed there, the more I found myself considering a career in IP,” she said. “I especially enjoyed that I wasn’t made to feel like I was just doing a task as a legal assistant. The partners wanted me to learn and understand why certain forms needed to be filed or why something was done a particular way.

“Being in a field that is primarily male dominated, I think it was also important I started at an IP firm that had more female patent attorneys than males. Without the presence of those female partners—who I now consider role models for my career—I don’t think I would have believed intellectual property was a viable path for me.”

After a couple of years as a contract specialist in the IP department of Ford Global Technologies LLC ended, she spent four months as a corporate counsel intern at Tenneco.

“Working at an OEM was an experience I was also very fortunate to have,” she said. “The hands-on experience of drafting and negotiating contracts with both small, local companies, and large, multinational corporations was a fantastic opportunity for a law student.”

When the pandemic began, Chapman became a part of Project Apollo, the moniker for Ford’s efforts to help with the manufacture and distribution of PPE and ventilators.

“I played a small role in helping to ensure appropriate agreements were in place for protecting and licensing intellectual property throughout the project.,” she said. “I was really proud to be at a company who shifted so much to be able to provide relief to our local communities.”

Since starting at the Troy firm of Fishman Stewart in February, her work has primarily focused on patent prosecution, reviewing and responding to office actions from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and recently writing her first patent application.

Chapman’s favorite part of patent preparation and prosecution is that practitioners are constantly learning something new.

“You’re dealing with technology that may not be commercialized for another five years and you get to be on the forefront of it while helping companies protect their innovations,” she said.

Now in her final year at Wayne Law with graduation planned for December, Chapman has always had an interest in different sciences and technology.

“As a child I wanted to be a marine biologist and, in high school, I found myself fascinated with how things worked. After years of not being sure what I wanted my career to look like, it all clicked when I realized I could pursue a career in law that also dealt with technology and learning how things worked.”

Chapman particularly appreciates the Wayne Law community.

““At every job and externship during law school, at least one attorney was a Wayne alum who went above and beyond to provide experiences and help me network with other professionals in the legal community,” she said.

Chapman serves as publication editor for the Journal of Business Law, the school’s newest publication that she noted has a lot of potential for growth and change.

“It’s been really exciting to see the Journal consistently increase in size, and most recently get approved for our permanent journal status by the student affairs committee,” she said.

To further her interests in technology, as well as her career in Intellectual Property, Chapman took additional classes at Oakland Community College, in addition to her law school studies and working, to acquire the requisite credits to sit for the patent registration exam.

Having now completed the additional courses she needed to sit for the USPTO registration exam, her short-term goals include passing the USPTO registration exam to become a patent agent, and then passing the state bar after her December graduation to officially become an attorney.

When the pandemic hit, Chapman found it difficult to shift to a remote school setting.

“I’m very grateful for professors who tried to keep classes as normal as possible while also providing a lot of grace for the mishaps, technological challenges and general Zoom fatigue that we’re all experiencing,” she said.

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