VOL. 127 | NO. 27 | Thursday, February 9, 2012
Memphis Law Talk
Barnes’ IP Practice Bridges Law, Science
By Andy Meek
Some lawyers may have a background that includes previous experience in real estate or time in politics.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
Kenneth Barnes, an intellectual property attorney with Crone & McEvoy PLC, was a researcher at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for five years before going to law school. And don’t let the shelves of law books fool you.
He also knows how to tune a pulsed infrared laser.
Barnes has worked with Memphis attorney Alan Crone since 2008. He also has a background in microbiology.
A lawyer needs a technical background of some sort to sit for the patent bar, and Barnes has a master’s degree in biology from the University of Memphis.
“When I started at the University of Memphis, I think of the science backgrounds that the incoming class had, biology was one of the top ones,” Barnes said. “And I guess that’s because biologists are used to kind of dealing with things that are somewhat fuzzy. There’s a lot of ambiguity in biology.”
After getting his undergraduate degree, Barnes worked for a biotech startup in Memphis that produced diagnostic test kits. He started his graduate studies after three years with them.
As an intellectual property attorney, he deals with patents, copyrights and trademarks. And he readily acknowledges how the fact-based nature of his studies in science lends itself to the mindset of a lawyer.
“One of the reasons why I wanted to get into intellectual property and become a patent attorney is because it is an interdisciplinary field,” Barnes said. “I know from experience in labs and such how difficult it is to do that work, and you want to have it protected so that somebody else is not going to be exploiting the hard work you’ve done. You want to make sure you get the reward for that.”
Barnes said he’s found himself doing a lot more trademark work lately than other things. He also points out that people often have the mistaken impression that it’s fairly easy to file to protect a trademark and that they can do it on their own – when, instead, the trademark rules and patent rules “are pretty complex.”
While copyrights extend to creative works, a patent is a protection for an invention of some sort, a process or a product. A single product can also contain many separate inventions that are patented.
Trademarks are symbols or words a business uses to identify itself or its products and distinguish it from competitors.
“I do a mix of all three,” Barnes said. “Especially if you’re a startup, it’s important to get an intellectual property attorney involved at the beginning. You want to make sure the names you’re choosing to either be the names of your business or product are not already in conflict with something else that’s already registered out there in the marketplace.
“Because then you run the risk of trademark infringement, which is not a good way to start.”
Barnes said the Internet, the reality of social media and the hyper-connected world we live in has made his job in demand more than it’s probably been in a long time.
“There’s actually a lot more conflicts than there used to be” now that they’re more easily discoverable through the Internet, he said.