People who love what they do at work, often do the same thing at play. It’s the classic busman’s holiday, i.e., where the bus driver goes on a bus tour for vacation.
Local patent attorney Michele Mayberry loves wandering in antique shops looking for old items marked with a patent number. “I find it interesting to look up the patent number and compare the patent claims with what was actually sold (i.e., commercial embodiment) to confirm whether the product is covered by the patent,” she relates. She has collected things like patented teapots, folding chairs and corn muffin pans.
There are two types of patent practitioners – patent attorney or patent agent. Both typically have at least a bachelor’s degree in science. Once they have passed the patent bar, which is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office® [USPTO] exam, either an agent or attorney can represent clients in the process of obtaining a U.S. patent, i.e., “patent prosecution” or the interactive process of filing, arguing for and obtaining a patent. Only attorneys, however, can litigate or enforce patents in court for having a juris doctor degree and passing a state bar.
Intellectual Property Protection
Intellectual property (IP) includes patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets.
“Some inventions qualify for more than one type of protection,” Mayberry explains. “For example, inventions involving software (although not software itself) can be patented, and the software itself can be protected with a copyright. Lego® not only has a design patent on their mini-figures, but also a 3D trademark.”
A common misconception is that a patent comes with the right to make a certain product and insulates the maker from infringing other patents. However, the patent system is based on the concept of quid pro quo, wherein the inventor discloses their invention to the public in exchange for being able to exclude others from making the invention for 20 years. In essence, for a period of two decades, the patent owner has the power to stop others from making a competing product if that product infringes on their patent.
“Although the written description and figures are important parts of a patent,” Mayberry continues, “the ‘claims’ appearing at the end of the patent outline the IP property right, much like a survey does for a plat of land. A patent attorney works with the client to identify features of the invention that render it, as a whole, both novel and not obvious over technology to date or ‘prior art.’ The claims are then crafted in a manner to maximize success in patent eligibility and patentability, while minimizing the risk of invalidation or unenforceability.”
A patent attorney’s knowledge and experience are valuable in the wording of the claims. Where some of us might consider it splitting hairs, the courts look for very specific descriptions. Every word in a claim is important. The U.S. Supreme Court has noted that the distinction is more than just semantic in nature, as ‘words are how the law constrains power.’”
On a Personal Note
Mayberry says she naturally gravitated toward small-town life having warm memories of her early childhood in the small town of Franklin, N.H. “I loved never having to lock the doors, walking to the lake and exploring the woods, river and dam in our backyard.” She graduated from high school in McLean, Va., and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from George Mason University.
Although the middle of five girls, her sisters, older and younger, have served as wonderful role models. One of them suggested she [Michele] take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) when she [the sister] was taking it. Mayberry completed her law degree at The George Washington University Law School.
The family moved to the New River Valley in 2006 in response to their search for “a great place to raise our kids in a town that has the best of both worlds – alive (for the kids), yet peaceful (for the parents).” She opened her law firm four years later once she had confirmed the need for a local patent attorney to support the entrepreneurial community and to satiate her own entrepreneurial spirit.
Mayberry has been involved in an impressive scientific range of patent cases, including cosmetics; drugs for treating atrial fibrillation [AFib] and Alzheimer’s; medical devices like hip implants and dental flossers; systems for 3D printers of human cells and of metals; and electrical-energy based treatments for cancer. She has participated in patent work for calcium-fortified orange juice, plants, power converters, methods of making hypoallergenic cats and more.
The work is so fascinating that Michele Mayberry continues to find old treasures with patent markings to take home and evaluate the patent details. Her version of the busman’s holiday.
Michele Mayberry encourages those who might just be getting started with patents to visit the University Libraries at Virginia Tech, in person or online at https://guides.lib.vt.edu/ptrc. It is designated as a Patent and Trademark Resource Center by the USPTO, the only one in Virginia.
Text by Joanne M. Anderson
Photos by Jon Fleming