Her love for Michigan drives Intellectual Property lawyer

by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

As a kid, Emily Zelenock Tait idolized the legendary University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler –and dreamed of having that job one day.

While the gridiron was not to be her career area, Tait – a patent attorney and partner with Honigman, Miller Schwartz and Cohn in Bloomfield Hills – knows how to lead a team. As a prime example, she organized “The State of Patent Litigation – A Conversation with the Federal Circuit,” held at the U-M Law School in September. 

She first conceived of this event in 2010, after starting at Honigman. Having moved back to Michigan from New York City, she wanted to bring a high profile event focusing on IP  to the state. 

“I love New York, but I’m a Michigander through and through. My goal was to put a spotlight on Michigan and, specifically, Michigan’s vibrant intellectual property community.” 

In particular, she hoped to bring judges from the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit – the court that handles patent appeals – to the state. 

“Once I began putting out feelers, the response was overwhelmingly positive,” she says. 

Chief Judge Randall Rader of the Federal Circuit gave a keynote address and participated on a panel that included his colleague Judge Richard Linn of the Federal Circuit; Judge Jack Wang of the IP Court of Taiwan, Administrative Law Judge Robert Rogers of the International Trade Commission, and Detroit’s own Judge Avern Cohn, Eastern District of Michigan. Other panels included Teresa Stanek Rea, Deputy Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and several judges from around the U.S. – as well as in-house counsel from such industries as Ford, Stryker, Groupon, Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, Cummins, CME Group, and Thomas & Betts, and some of the leading IP litigators in the United States. 

“The conference was extremely well attended and received,” Tait says. “The level of participation and enthusiasm was exceptional.” 

Tait also is a founding member and barrister on the Michigan Intellectual Property American Inn of Court – part of the “Linn Alliance” of Inns of Courts, named after Judge Linn of the Federal Circuit and all directed towards IP.

“The Inn was taking off as I was finalizing plans for the Federal Circuit conference, so we were able to create a synergy by holding the first-ever annual dinner for the Inn on the evening before the Federal Circuit program,” Tait says.

The dinner, at Ann Arbor’s historic Gandy Dancer restaurant, was attended by nearly all participants from the Federal Circuit program, numerous federal district judges and magistrate judges from the Eastern District of Michigan, and nearly all of the Inn’s newly appointed “Masters,” “Barristers,” Associates, and Student members. 

“The purpose of an Inn of Court is to foster professionalism, ethics, civility, and legal skills between judges, practitioners, academics, and students. The kickoff dinner embodied that spirit,” Tait says. “It’s been wonderful to get to know judges and practitioners in Michigan since I was in New York during the early part of my career.”

Tait praises the support of Chief Judge Gerald Rosen, a driving force behind the Inn and its Judicial Officer, who hosted organizational meetings in his chambers and the Inn’s first substantive meeting in October in his historic courtroom at the Eastern District of Michigan courthouse in downtown Detroit. 

“The Inn wouldn’t exist without him,” Tait says.

The Ann Arbor native earned her undergrad and law degrees at U-M, spending two years as editor of The Michigan Law Review.

“I love to analyze things from every possible angle,” she says. “I love to advocate for people. I enjoy a good debate and helping people resolve conflict.” 

She also relishes that her area of the law taps into innovation and creativity.   “I’m always amazed to learn about clients’ technologies and businesses.”

The global aspect of intellectual property also appeals to Tait. 

“IP has an inherently international dimension,” she explains. “IP has an extraordinarily important role in the global economy and its importance will only continue to grow.” 

In addition to her law degree from Michigan, Tait obtained a Master’s of Law in international intellectual property from the University of Turin-Italy in conjunction with the World Intellectual Property Organization.

“This experience elevated my appreciation for the human rights component of intellectual property law, as my program included many people from the developing world who see IP as a tool for economic
development,” she says. “And Italy was on my bucket list, so the location was a significant perk!”

After graduating from U-M Law School in 2002, Tait worked for the global law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher and Flom at its New York City office in Times Square. But her Michigan roots eventually brought her home – a decision she is happy she made.

“After moving home, I spent time with my mom at our family’s cottage on Walloon Lake.  She was later diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and passed away – so I’m so grateful to have had that time,” she says.
She also met her husband Steve in Michigan; they married in July near Walloon.

“I really can’t imagine how different my life would be today if I had not made the decision to come back to Michigan,” she says.

In the two years since Tait joined Honigman, the IP group has continued to expand to nearly 40 attorneys. 

“What I most enjoy are the people, the firm’s commitment to Michigan and in particular Detroit, the complexity of the issues we encounter, and the legal excellence my colleagues have exhibited,” she says.
In addition to her IP practice, Tait has undertaken pro bono work on behalf of asylum seekers – an interest sparked at age 16 when she took a “life-changing” trip to India, experiencing the conspicuousness of being a minority and seeing real poverty for the first time. 

“While the trip was at times very challenging, it was also incredible and made a lasting impression,” she says. “I returned home with gratitude and my eyes significantly more ‘open’ to the world.”
She took on her first asylum case in 2001, while a summer associate at Skadden. Her Sudanese client, a Muslim, spoke of persecution and abuse at the hands of the religious extremists because of his belief in
women’s rights and his Western education. The man, who had been kidnapped, imprisoned, and beaten, also discussed the genocide in Darfur.

“At that time, I had very little awareness of these issues – the media did not meaningfully cover the genocide in Darfur or Islamic radicalism,” Tait says. “One month after my summer associate position was over, 9/11 happened.

“In my experience with asylum seekers, they are so grateful for something many of us take for granted – the opportunity to live in this country and the freedom we enjoy.”

Tait has also enjoyed volunteer trips with Cross-Cultural Solutions and Global Volunteers, where she worked at orphanages and day care centers in Costa Rica and Ecuador. 

“I was blessed to have the opportunity to take these trips,” she says. “Sometimes your impact in the short term may seem small, but that impact grows if it causes you to count your blessings more – an increased level of gratitude changes the way you interact with the world.”

Notwithstanding her interest in international affairs, Tait is “a big believer in ‘think globally, act locally.’” To that end, she has undertaken pro bono work at the Legal Aid and Defender Association – which recently named Honigman the “Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year.”  Tait also is involved in Mentor Michigan, which connected her with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit.

“I moved back to Michigan because I wanted to put my feet in the place where my heart always was. I wanted to try to give back to this state and this community.”

Mentoring, she says, “is a way to create a positive ripple effect.”

Tait and her husband Steve, an ophthalmologist, and their children Christopher, 15, Cameron, 13 and 10-year-old Paige live in Birmingham and enjoy skiing, playing tennis, cooking, and spending time together as a family. And, perhaps not surprisingly, Tait still counts herself an avid Wolverines sports fan – especially football.