The former engineer parlays his background into a career as a patent attorney.
Kelvin Chan (’16) did not have concrete plans to attend law school after completing his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He began his career as an engineer with Mitre in Bedford, MA, eventually moving from his home state of Massachusetts to San Diego, California, where he worked as a telecommunications engineer with Qualcomm.
Along the way, Chan met a few colleagues who had begun their careers as engineers before entering law school, and the prospect intrigued him. As an engineer, he enjoyed complex problem solving, but he wanted to find a way to apply that aspect of his work in a profession that emphasized personal interaction and communications. Knowing that law combined the two, Chan began working toward becoming a patent attorney. “Going into law school, I knew I was going to focus on intellectual property,” he says. “Because you need the technical background, not all attorneys can fill those jobs, so it made sense for me to pursue that field.”
Chan began applying to law schools while still in California, but BU Law quickly jumped out at him. “I am very much a Boston person. I grew up around here and have a lot of roots in and around this area,” he says, “and one of the most appealing parts of BU for me was the fact that BU Law has really stellar reviews as far as how the students rate the professors,” he says.
At BU Law, Chan spent as much time as possible gaining the specific experience he would need to appeal to intellectual property firms or IP practices at general service firms after graduation. He worked as a summer associate with WilmerHale, a global law firm with leading IP and IP litigation practices, and spent a year clerking with Wolf Greenfield, Boston’s largest firm specializing in intellectual property law. He was an Intellectual Property Law Mentor, received the Dean’s Award for Patent Litigation, and was one of the first students to participate in the School’s Entrepreneurship & IP Clinic, which launched in partnership with MIT in the fall of 2015.
“The idea was that we could provide free legal services to entrepreneurs and give students in the clinic real hands-on, client-facing work in transactional law,” Chan says. The clinic held regular office hours to discuss the legal needs of student entrepreneurs from BU and MIT. Typical tasks included forming companies, drafting bylaws and founder’s agreements, issuing stock, reviewing contracts, and advising on intellectual property strategy. “You learn a lot about managing expectations, keeping everyone on the same page, and thinking about your client’s issues in a holistic way” he says.
Today, Chan is a first-year associate in the intellectual property group at WilmerHale in Boston. He is responsible for helping clients navigate every facet of the patent process: whether that be writing a patent, enforcing one that they hold, or defending them against patent assertion lawsuits. His job includes regular communications with the United States Patent Office, especially when guiding patent seekers through the application process. He spends a fair amount of his time involved in administrative procedures called inter partes reviews, where he works to challenge the validity of patents.
“I think it’s fun,” he says. “Every case involves some new technology that I inevitably have to get familiar very with. I happened to take Patent Litigation with Professor Paul Gugliuzza, and I have to say—I use the skills I learned in that class almost every day at work.”
Along with Patent Litigation, he cites Legislation with Professor Gerry Leonard and Contracts with Professor Daniella Caruso as classes that are especially relevant in his everyday work. “Those were classes that taught me how a whole case can turn on a comma,” he says. “And basically, how to argue about that comma.”
As his career continues to develop, Chan is very optimistic about the future. “I like WilmerHale and I’m trying to contribute and learn as much as I can. It can be a demanding job, but I’ve found the work itself and the collaborative environment at the firm to be very fulfilling.”