Interviewed by Matt Totsky
Photographed by Brett Mountain
Meet Birmingham resident and attorney Sam Haidle, group leader of the intellectual property (IP) department at Howard & Howard in Royal Oak. Haidle is also the author of the patent, trademark and copyright section of the Michigan Institute of Continuing Legal Education Business Forms book.
“We have one of the largest IP groups inside of a general practice firm,” Haidle says. “Our group includes 38 attorneys and interns. We’re always on the lookout for candidates with strong engineering backgrounds. Of course, they have to be good lawyers, too, but our clients have an expectation that we will understand their technology and capture the essence of their inventions in short order.
“We are not a commodity shop,” he continues. “We partner with clients who appreciate the value of something that is going to stand up to any kind of opposition. If a product is successful, competitors will try to develop their own versions. It is our job to make sure the patent application captures as many versions as possible.”
Haidle received his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Central Florida in 1993. During his undergraduate studies, he worked with NASA and Morton Thiokol and emphasized his studies in structural mechanics, fluid dynamics, high-speed aerodynamics and propulsion systems.
In 1998, Haidle received his J.D., cum laude, from the Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University. He is admitted to the bar in the state of Michigan and is registered to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and the U.S. Supreme Court.
What made you want to focus on this particular aspect of the law? I was less interested in handling criminal cases, personal injury, divorces and things of that nature. I prefer to fight against my clients’ competitors or patent examiners to protect their technology.
I always had an interest in engineering and technology, but I wanted more variety in my career. Working as an intellectual property attorney allows me to achieve that. From gear shifters to phone cases, we see it all — often in the same day.
So is it safe to say that this is what motivates you? Yes, that’s true. About 23 years ago, my mentor Hal Milton said to me: “You will do more engineering as a patent attorney than you ever will as an engineer.” And he was right. An engineer is often hired to focus on a single field. I’ve been involved in hundreds of different fields of technology. Every day I see some new technology or invention and, therefore, a new set of challenges to dive into.
Another thing that excites me is our firm’s intern training program. It’s a minimum three-year program. Our interns work here during the day and go to law school at night. I went through the program myself and it really paid off. It is exciting and rewarding to train young engineers who want to be lawyers and patent attorneys.
How has the industry changed since you’ve been practicing law? Nowadays, everything has a controller, electronics and software. You can’t walk down the street without seeing someone using some type of gadget. I’m a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy, but often we’re dealing with how all of this new technology is tied into the mechanical aspects of the products we deal with. In the not-so-distant future, we’ll be seeing autonomous vehicles handle the driving for us and robots performing our surgeries. The technology is making its way into so many fields and it’s exciting to be a part of it on the legal end.
Another significant change is the global practice of patent law, especially with the recent onslaught of filings in China. We not only need to be well-versed in U.S. law, we must also appreciate how similar legal principles apply in other countries, and it can be dramatically different.
What is your most interesting career accomplishment? There have been many, but one in particular stands out and that’s when I was able to educate and navigate a client through a court proceeding that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The name of the case was KSR v. Teleflex. We represented the patent holder and, at the end of the case, the patent was struck down. I am proud of the work we did and feel that we didn’t lose based on the facts of the case. We lost because the Supreme Court changed the law. Many patents died that day; we just happened to be the first one.
What are you passionate about outside of the office? Spending time with my family, friends and traveling. We have a bus-style RV and spend much of our vacation time exploring the country. We’ve traveled through every state east of the Mississippi River — from the top of Maine to Key West. For us, getting there is just as much fun as the destination. NS