While Christopher Scherer was working on his engineering degree at Marquette University, he discovered an alternative career possibility: becoming a patent attorney.
“It gives you another opportunity to use your engineering degree in another area and patent law is a unique niche to be in,” said Scherer, an attorney at DeWitt Ross & Stevens S.C. in Milwaukee.
Patent law requires lawyers to have either a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering or enough science credits to sit for the exam. “That technical background allows you to communicate better with your client,” Scherer said.
Although his practice has Scherer handling all facets of intellectual-property law, his special interest is in patent and trademark prosecution. He estimated he has prepared hundreds of domestic and global patent applications on electrical and electronic circuits and systems, computer software, medical devices, device fabrication, mechanical devices and more.
“I do a lot of design-patent work. For example, you look at – can the client get a patent for this work?” Scherer said. “About 80 percent of my work is focused on patent prosecution, which sounds a bit omnibus, but means you are getting the application ready for the patent, sending it to the patent office and waiting for it to be approved.”
Scherer said he has found two to three years can easily elapse from when he first meets a client to discuss what he or she is interested in getting patented to the time when a client finally starts making a profit.
“It takes time and effort to get a patent. There is a lot of waiting involved,” he said.
Wisconsin Law Journal: What makes your work important to you?
Christopher Scherer: I am protecting the hard work of others. In some cases, the inventions and other IP that I am helping to protect is an extremely important business asset for the client, and in some cases the IP is the most important or even the only business asset.
WLJ: Who is your hero in the legal field?
Scherer: I don’t really have a traditional hero in the legal field like a well-known judge or scholar. I would say there are a few that really supported me along way, from law school professors that helped me weather the tremendous stress of law school, the partners that first hired me as a new IP associate learning the ropes in Silicon Valley, to the partner in my first Milwaukee firm that mentored me on how to be a professional and build my practice.
WLJ: What do you do outside of work to deal with stress from the office?
Scherer: Putting miles on my road bike melts away stress for me (mountain biking works too). I have had less time to ride in the past few years, but I’ve also found that watching my kids grow and participate in activities does the job just as well. I can see how golf would work too, but my game is still in the state where it gives me more stress than relief!
WLJ: What’s one thing many people get wrong about what you do?
Scherer: Sometimes small companies or individual inventors think once a patent is issued on their concept, that money will fall from the sky. That’s really not the case. I always tell clients if their invention is indeed entitled to patent protection under the law, that obtaining patent rights is the easy part. The difficult part is putting the other things together to get the invention/product to market and monetized.
WLJ: What’s your favorite memory from law school?
Scherer: The friendships I made with my classmates. We had a great group at John Marshall that year and I feel that there was very little competition amongst the group. We studied together, celebrated together and supported each other through the rigors of law school.
WLJ: Is there a certain case that stands out to you?
Scherer: No single case stands out as particularly special. However, having an international IP practice has given me the opportunity to represent some very interesting clients over the years, including a couple of high fashion clients in utility and design patent prosecution, Italian coffee roasters in trademark prosecution and a sunglass company and wine maker in IP litigation. That really makes the job interesting and rewarding.