Fentress Puts Technical Training to Work as Patent Attorney

LESLEY YOUNG | Special to The Daily News

When Susan Fentress decided to earn a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, she wasn’t looking to work with microscopes.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

She wanted to become a patent attorney.

“To become a patent attorney, you need a huge amount of technical training,” said the University of Wisconsin graduate. “You have to have a minimum amount of credits in a specific area. When you submit your transcripts to the U.S. patent office you qualify according to your background.”

Fentress went on to earn a juris doctorate from Milwaukee’s Marquette University Law School in 1983 with a bachelor of science in biochemistry and psychology and 24 graduate credits in molecular biology in tow. And over the years, she has helped business owners and individuals obtain intellectual property rights for hurricane shutters, cancer treatments and termite acoustic detection.

For the past two years she has offered her services at Harris Shelton Hanover Walsh PLLC in Downtown Memphis.

“My group protects companies’ commercial interests, their ideas and products from being copied using intellectual property law. That involves patents, copyrights, trademarks and service marks,” she said. “We can offer a basket of intellectual property rights, including designing a patent very specific to an invention so that the applicant is able to obtain a higher success rate at the U.S. patent office.”

Fentress chose to focus her background on biochemistry because of her love of innovation mixed with an aversion to labs.

“As a chemist, I love to learn about new discoveries and inventions, but without doing the research. Research is somewhat tedious to me,” she said. “Going into intellectual property law, I can learn about discoveries and draft the right patents for them so companies can get them licensed and bring them to market. I’m particularly interested in the commercial aspects of it.”

Fentress enjoys sharing her interests, and has spoken at seminars around the country and internationally, including lecturing at the National Business Institute, the General Counsel Institute and Hong Kong Science Park.

On Jan. 25 Fentress and her firm, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Greater Memphis Chamber, will host the forum “China – The New Frontier for Export” at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn, which will include speakers on Chinese culture, business, export specialists and Fentress discussing law basics for companies exporting to China.

“Our firm also works internationally by filing with the Patent Cooperation Treaty, which allows the owner or developer to attempt to obtain patent protection in more than 100 countries, including China,” Fentress said. “We can help you file a design patent in China to protect yourself from someone copying your design in China. Then you can register in customs so you prevent shipments of them into the U.S. You can protect your logo or phrase or name used to identify your product ... (including) the Chinese name or service mark.”

Growing up in the industry – her father was a general practice lawyer and a close family friend was an intellectual property lawyer – practicing IP law was an obvious choice for the globetrotter.

“I can remember seeing models being carried in to go to the patent office, and it seemed the coolest thing ever,” she said. “Seeing people travel to D.C. with those models, it just seemed like a cool profession.”

Her personal goals as an attorney are actually goals she has for her community.

“I’d like to see Memphis create sustained development for biotech businesses, bringing jobs to the really well-educated people of Memphis so they’ll stay and flourish in the community. Then everyone can flourish,” she said. “There are such intelligent people in Memphis developing things that improve people’s lives, and I get to see that every time someone comes in the office.”