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VOL. 123 | NO. 26 | Thursday, February 07, 2008

Fentress Brings Patent Law Experience To Baker Donelson

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"I'm very interested in science and it's really interesting to see how an idea can be turned into a product and then a business and the business then generates jobs."

- Susan Bennett Fentress
Name: Susan Bennett Fentress
Position: Of counsel
Firm: Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC
Basics: Fentress is an intellectual- property attorney with an extensive knowledge of patent law and an interest in science.

Susan Bennett Fentress has joined Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC as of counsel in its Memphis office. She is an intellectual-property attorney with an extensive knowledge of patent law and an interest in science.

Fentress is a member of the American Chemical Society and the American Intellectual Property Law Association East Asian Committee.

She has a busy travel schedule that involves speaking and presenting papers on those issues.

"I present almost every month somewhere," she said.

Fentress will moderate a session on intellectual property in May in Chicago at the annual meeting of the Licensing Executives Society. She also will present a paper at the gathering on effective intellectual property management in China.

She will travel to China in March to talk about how Chinese companies can invest in the U.S. economy. She is seeking input from area businesses in particular in preparation for the trip.

Q: What is your practice area?

A: Intellectual property, patents specifically. I also do regulatory, which would be (Food & Drug Administration) work. I also do general business help for start-up medical product companies.

Q: What drew you to the areas of intellectual property and patent law?

A: I'm very interested in science and it's really interesting to see how an idea can be turned into a product and then a business and the business then generates jobs.
I find the whole process fascinating how an idea can result in a business that is producing income and employment for people.

Q: Why is intellectual property such an issue in U.S. trade relations with China as opposed to other countries?

A: We have U.S. laws and other countries have their own laws. When you do business in another country, you have to follow the other country's laws.

I think it's a myth with respect to China that IP is not respected. I think it's important for us to respect the other country's laws. When one goes into China, one needs to understand what their laws are with respect to contracts and with respect to IP.
That's the purpose of my talk (in Chicago) ... to give them good business practices and contract tips in working with service providers in China.

Of course, it's a different culture in China and in dealing with a different culture one has to perhaps take additional precautions that one may not take in the United States. But the important thing is that a business is aware of these things when they are doing business in that particular country.

Q: Is some of the problem a different cultural view of intellectual property?

A: No, I don't think so. I think the Chinese government has taken pains to make sure that their intellectual-property rules with respect to patents and trademarks ... are in compliance with international standards. The other part of the equation, though, is that there is a culture of copying and so when one does business in China, even though you have good rules, you still have to use additional precautions and good business practices to be able to make sure that your intellectual property is not reduced or copied.

Q: Where did you attend undergraduate and law school?

A: I went to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and I have a degree in biochemistry. Law school was Marquette. But I also went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and have most of a degree in molecular biology - about 20 credits graduate work in the molecular biology field. I did it the same time I was in law school.

Q: What should people who don't practice law know about our legal system?

A: I think a lot of people think that you can simply apply for a patent and then the patent issues. It's a very rigorous process to obtain a patent in the United States. I think there's a lot of misunderstanding as to the requirements and also the likelihood of success that one would actually obtain a patent.
The success rates really are bordering right around 50 percent right now and probably will be down based on some Supreme Court cases. It's definitely a rigorous process of examination and it's certainly not a guarantee that one will ever get a U.S. patent even if one files for one.

Q: So, it's not just paperwork?

A: It's not paperwork, no. It's a very rigorous process. The patent office takes it very seriously. It's almost an adversarial position to the inventors.

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