Head IP Counsel at Square
Area of Practice: Intellectual Property
Year Graduated: 2007
Before he became an attorney, Kirupa Pushparaj was an engineer. Rather than let his background in science fall to the wayside in his pursuit of the law, Mr. Pushparaj has found a legal career in which his engineering expertise is a valuable, and in fact necessary, component of his practice. As an associate at Perkins Coie LLP in Palo Alto, California, Mr. Pushparaj uses his background in engineering to expertly prosecute and litigate patents for his clients. "When my clients come to me, I feel I add a lot more value to what they bring in by using my graduate and undergraduate education in engineering and relating it to what they mention ...," Mr. Pushparaj says. "It's the best of both worlds for me, the engineering world and the legal world. I get to see cool technologies and work with a really state-of-the-art, or ahead-of-the-art, world."
Mr. Pushparaj completed his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering in India and then spent a year working in Bangalore as a software engineer for Siemens Information Systems. He came to the United States in 2001 to earn his Masters Degree in electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. From there, he was hired by Intel as a circuit design engineer. Mr. Pushparaj notes, "I finished my Masters never thinking I'd go to law school." In fact, until he met a patent attorney during his work at Intel, Mr. Pushparaj had no idea that patent law was even an option for him. Inspired by the patent attorney's zeal for his work, Mr. Pushparaj made the decision to give the law a try. "Intel was appreciative of the idea that I wanted to go to law school," Mr. Pushparaj explains, and he completed his law degree as an evening student at McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific while continuing to work there full time.
Mr. Pushparaj received his J.D. in 2007. He secured his current job at Perkins Coie right out of law school through an interview at a job fair. "Once I went to these job fairs [in Chicago and San Francisco], I had about ten offers. The fact that I had so many offers had to do with having a good education in law school, relevant technical experience, and an advanced degree in engineering," he notes.
As an intellectual property associate at Perkins Coie, Mr. Pushparaj handles patent prosecution (applications for patents) and patent litigation (in which one party alleges infringement of its patent against another party), "with an emphasis in computer, communications, semiconductor, electrical signal processing, clean energy technology, fuel cells, social media, internet, and consumer electronic technologies." "My practice heavily emphasizes both patent prosecution and litigation," Mr. Pushparaj explains. "I feel that the two practices go hand-in-hand. Understanding how patents work in the USPTO [United States Patent and Trademark Office] is important to understanding how to litigate a patent case, and patent litigation experience is tremendously helpful in drafting strong patent applications ... [But] the industry doesn't necessarily have a lot of attorneys who do both." His practice also includes advising clients (some of them Fortune 500 corporations) on patent strategy and management.
Mr. Pushparaj's job encompasses many different activities. "As a patent attorney, there's no regular thing you do," he says. "First, there are several types of people I meet with. One, I meet with inventors to understand inventions. I also have regular communication with patent examiners at the USPTO to be able to successfully prosecute patent applications. I also work with my clients, and by clients, I mean either in-house counsel [for the company to which the patents are eventually assigned] or individual inventors who are effectively the only employees of start-up companies. I present a strategy for how I would approach the case, how I would defend or prosecute the case." On the litigation side, Mr. Pushparaj focusses on the analysis of patents to establish infringement or non-infringement based on a technical study of the relevant technology. Mr. Pushparaj also specializes in efforts to invalidate patents asserted against his clients.
Since 2011, Mr. Pushparaj has also served as an adjunct faculty member at McGeorge, teaching a course on patent prosecution which he designed himself. The idea for the course originated when Mr. Pushparaj discovered that some law firms expressed concern about interviewing students for patent law positions at McGeorge because it did not offer a class on patent prosecution. "[Amy] Landers is a wonderful professor, and she's made sure that McGeorge offers an excellent and well-rounded IP program, and for people interested in patent prosecution, most law firms find it an asset that you've done a patent prosecution course in law school. Most law schools don't have it," he explains. Not wanting students at his alma mater to miss out on opportunities to work with patent law, Mr. Pushparaj offered to develop and teach a course on patent prosecution. It's something that he enjoys a great deal. "It's really a lot of fun because everyone in the class is committed to patent law. We spend a substantial portion of the class drafting and analyzing claims, which is what you do in real life as a patent attorney. We even have an inventor come to class to discuss a concept that the inventor wishes to patent. The students interview the inventor and draft a complete patent application as part of their final exam," he says.
Additionally, Mr. Pushparaj is a board member of the Silicon Valley Intellectual Property Law Association, a board member for the Global Music Therapy Project, and a member of the Perkins Coie Pro Bono Committee. He has received the California Bar Association's Wiley W. Manuel Award for Pro Bono Legal Services on two separate occasions in recognition of his contributions to legal aid—once in 2009 for his representation of low-income entrepreneurs on patent-related issues and again in 2011 for his work with victims of abuse through Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto. For two consecutive years (2011 and 2012), Mr. Pushparaj was also designated a "Northern California Rising Star" in Super Lawyers Magazine.
Mr. Pushparaj has found that patent law offers him a high level of intellectual satisfaction. "With engineering, you tend to focus on the same type of work or a very unique engineering field for the bulk of your career, but as a patent attorney, I get to see a wide variety of exciting and interesting technologies every day," he remarks, pointing out that he works with companies that offer a wide range of products. As such, his job has required him, for example, to play video games, to study wireless network protocols and the circuitry for aircraft technology, and to work with new ways to present social media. "The variety of inventions I work with keeps my engineering appetite really satiated," he explains. "You're also able to do what engineers don't do: apply your legal background to compare your client's invention to what else is out there to get a patent right."
Furthermore, Mr. Pushparaj likes the social nature of the practice of law and the ample resources available to him at a large international firm like Perkins Coie. His practice is most rewarding when he is able to help a start-up company grow into something much larger. "The thing about working in Silicon Valley is you see a lot of high-profile clients and also these start-up companies, students walking out of Stanford or Berkeley. They come here and we can get their intellectual property secured, which is key for getting investors interested," he says. "I personally have seen at least two companies grow from two people to hundreds of people and then get acquired by large companies."
Although it was a challenge for him to efficiently divide his time between his work at Intel and his coursework for McGeorge, Mr. Pushparaj encourages students who are interested in patent law to work in a technical field during law school. "Employers appreciate the fact that you were able to balance work and school and also continue to build your engineering profile ... There is a lot of street credit given, especially by clients, to the fact that you have actually worked in an engineering field," he explains. Most large law firms, Mr. Pushparaj points out, specifically look for applicants with work experience when selecting attorneys to fill open positions. Thus, Mr. Pushparaj recommends that students and attorneys tailor their resumes and cover letters for patent law jobs to emphasize technical experience and training. "Resumes in the patent law context are unique. The process is unique, and being in constant touch with the CDO [McGeorge Career Development Office] is very helpful. Take advantage of [the CDO]. Use them to at least get your resume reviewed. It makes such a big difference," he says.
Mr. Pushparaj also advises students to attend the Loyola Patent Law Interview Program in Chicago and, closer to home, the San Francisco Intellectual Property Law Association job fair. It was through one of these fairs that Mr. Pushparaj came to interview with Perkins Coie. He notes that it is important to exhibit professionalism and courtesy when interacting with attorneys and students at these events, since "[t]he patent law world is a very small world. You keep meeting the same people over and over again." He also comments, "Make sure you explore the firms. Choose the patent path or the intellectual property path that you feel you will be most comfortable with. At the end of the day, you need to have fun."
Finally, Mr. Pushparaj reminds students who are interested in patent law to persevere, even when they feel intimidated by the subject matter. "It is really natural for any engineer coming into patent prosecution to first be overwhelmed by the fact that there is so much different technology that they may not be immediately familiar with," he says. "It's normal."
NOTE: In March 2012, Mr. Pushparaj began a new job as Patent Counsel at Lab126, an Amazon.com company in Cupertino, Calif. He no longer practices at Perkins Coie LLP.