Chemical reaction: Patent attorney draws on pharmaceutical experience


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from Nankai University in Tianjin, China, Li Gao earned her Ph.D., in chemistry from Michigan State University, with a 4.0 GPA.

“I was fascinated by the magic chemical reactions produce, and by how chemistry is everywhere in our everyday life,” she says.

While working for her doctorate, Gao served as a research and teaching assistant, and designed, synthesized and performed biological testing of new chiral chemicals for the development of drugs against cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorders and infectious diseases.

She then worked at AFID Therapeutics Inc. in Lansing, eventually becoming director of research and development, responsible for the development and commercialization of new chemicals, leading the drug discovery program. She invented and commercialized new chemical entities for drug discovery and development and developed new materials from renewable sources.

“I developed technologies in small scales in a lab, and then worked with manufacturers to bring the technologies to production from the small scale,” says Gao, who has published articles in a variety of scholarly journals, including the Journal of Organic Chemistry.

“I was also involved in the negotiation of the licensing agreement to transfer the technologies.

“It was really rewarding that products I developed were used around the world in the discovery of new drugs for cancer and other diseases,”  she adds.

Gao returned to Spartan territory to earn her law degree, summa cum laude, from MSU College of Law with a focus on patent law, and where she was the recipient of jurisprudence awards in Research, Writing and Analysis, Advocacy, Torts, Business Enterprises, Secured Transactions, Advanced Legal Research, and Patent Litigation.“I realized that generally scientists do not care about knowing the law—however, when starting and running a company, knowing the law is essential to protect the rights of a start-up company, including the IP rights,” she says.

“When I applied for patents for my research, I started to know patent law and the patenting process, and became interesting in IP law.

“While working with other inventors, it’s exciting to get to know innovative technologies in all kinds of scientific areas.”   

Gao, who is admitted to the United State Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the State Bar of Michigan, and who has three patents in the chemical field, enjoyed her three years in law school.

“I appreciate MSU Law truly cares about students and helped me get through my hardships,” she says.

“I also enjoyed the great relationship with the faculties.”

Before joining Brinks Gilson & Lione last year—one of the largest intellectual property law firms in the U.S.—Gao previously spent two summers as a summer associate with the firm, researching patent issues, conducting prior art and patentability searches and drafting responses to patent office actions.

“Brinks has a collegial environment, and I enjoy working with attorneys here,” she says. “I also like the experience of working in different areas of the IP law.”

Originally from China, Gao lives in Okemos near Lansing, with her husband and 10- and 4-year-old daughters, and in her leisure time, enjoys yoga and tennis. She commutes from Spartan turf to Wolverine territory to work in the Ann Arbor office of Brinks.

“Ann Arbor is a vibrant city, and I can enjoy different cultures,” she says.