From pigskins to patents

Former MSU?player aims for career in IP Law

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

David Spears’ career path has been a unique trifecta: three seasons of football at Michigan State University, an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering degree, and in a few months, a law degree. “A lot of people told me along the way that I wouldn’t do any of those things individually, let alone all three,” he says.

But the Muskegon native was as determined at his studies as he was on the gridiron.

Always mechanically inclined, he earned an undergrad degree in Mechanical Engineering from MSU, encouraged by his cousins and mentors, Michael Oakes and his wife, Stacy Erwin Oakes—both attorneys and MSU alumni. 

While completing his engineering internships at Ford Motor Company and DTE Energy, Spears valued working with knowledgeable and passionate people from whom he learned a great deal. “The experiences were great because each internship taught me valuable skills and life lessons while requiring me to interact with different departments to accomplish my objectives, which increased my confidence and desire to learn more,” he says.

Prior to starting undergrad, Spears sought direction from Michael Oakes who encouraged him to pursue patent law. “Michael recognized my abilities, talents and ambitions even before I understood my full potential.”  Spears says.
“After learning more about Michael’s legal practice, I knew I was going to attend law school. What I found most intriguing was how every day presented a new set of problems and challenges that Michael had to solve and overcome on behalf of his clients.”

During his MSU Law studies, Spears has worked at MSU’s Tech Transfer Office, helping inventors acquire patent protection. His work entailed performing inventor interviews, researching market analysis and the patent landscape, including patent searches surrounding the invention, and giving his recommendations to Tech Managers.     

“It was a unique experience, which really helped me during the transition to Harness Dickey,” he says. “It was the best of both worlds.  At the Tech Transfer Office, I got a chance to be a part of the discussions leading up to drafting and prosecuting the patent application. Now I’m on the other side – actually drafting and prosecuting patent applications first hand.”

Spears, whose cases have run the gamut from dental implants and golf bags to compressors and automotive assemblies, encourages people with interesting ideas or innovations to get them patented, as they could be profitable.  He cites a case he worked on, where a man had to quit his job and go into business for himself due to the success of his new product. “The whole time I was thinking, ‘This must be a pretty legit invention,’ and it was—it was a water slide,” says Spears, who has since written more patents for this inventor. “If someone finds a product useful and it overcomes the hurdles required by patent laws, then it could be patented.

“Many people think they have to be the next Edison in order to get a patent, but there’s really no limit to what you can get patented as long as it is novel, useful and non-obvious.” 

In his leisure time, Spears enjoy lifting weights, watching sports, and spending time with family and loved ones.

“My family means everything to me and I try to spend time with them as much as possible,” he says. “My father passed away when I was 6, but my mother has done a stalwart job in raising me and my siblings. She means everything to me and is a very strong woman.” 

Spears has fond memories of his three years as a running back on the Spartan football team, under coach Mark Dantonio. “I formed a brotherhood with teammates that will last a lifetime,” he says. “Being able to say that I played running back for MSU is still breathtaking when I look back on it, especially given the fact I had a chance to play with some great running backs—Javon Ringer, Larry Caper, Edwin Baker, Le’Veon Bell, and Jeremy Langford.”

Spears often returns to his native Muskegon to talk to young athletes and students.

“Muskegon is known for producing great sports players, such as NBA Memphis Grizzlies player Deyonta Davis. It also has a lot talented, smart young people who just need guidance,” he says. “Students and athletes don’t often get a chance to talk to someone who is young and has had success in both arenas.  I understand I have a responsibility to give back so the next group will be better equipped with tools for success in life, so I try to go back and talk to the students and athletes as much as possible.”

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