U.S. Patent & Trademark Office officials make visit to Elon Law

Deputy Director Derrick Brent of the United States Patent & Trademark Office spoke with students about the importance of networking and the career opportunities to be found in intellectual property law.

A top official with the United States Patent & Trademark Office visited Elon Law this month for a tour and to talk with students about the importance of building lifelong, meaningful connections with those they meet throughout their careers.

Derrick Brent, deputy director of the USPTO, encouraged students to pursue experiences outside the areas of law they intend to practice. A focus on one practice area is helpful, he said, but having a broader background makes you a better attorney.

Brent accompanied Elizabeth L. Dougherty, the USPTO’s eastern regional outreach director, for a visit to Greensboro on April 6, 2023, as part of a larger tour of law schools and business organizations throughout North Carolina. Together, the duo encouraged more than two dozen Elon Law students to consider careers in the federal government and to explore career opportunities with the patent and trademark office beyond work as a patent examiner.

Brent also praised Elon Law’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship Clinic for its impact on the region. Having intellectual property assistance in clinics in law schools not only teaches students, he said, but it helps communities and small businesses.

Krista Contino Saumby, Elon Law’s associate director of career development, moderated the conversation.

“Many law students only see attorneys on TV and movies and think being a litigator means being in the courtroom. Most attorneys never step foot in one,” she said. “Having individuals like Deputy Director Brent speak with our students allows them to understand the profession beyond their classes and to make informed decisions about their careers.

“And it’s good for students to hear from someone with Deputy Director Brent’s breadth and depth of experience that they’re first position likely won’t be their last, and that having a law degree opens up so many more career opportunities than they realized.”

Brent serves today as deputy undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property and deputy director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office where he manages a wide portfolio of programs and operations for one of the largest intellectual property offices in the world.

His responsibilities include working with Director Kathi Vidal to lead the USPTO, advance IP policy and procedures for the benefit of the country, expand the USPTO’s outreach efforts to incentivize and support more innovation and entrepreneurship nationwide, and execute the agency’s policies, priorities, and programs.

Students, faculty and staff welcomed officials from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office during a visit to Greensboro on April 6, 2023.

Brent has served in all three branches of the federal government. In addition to six years of work as a chief counsel to Sen. Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate, where he was responsible for a broad portfolio that included IP and constitutional issues, civil rights, telecommunications, and judicial nominations, Brent clerked for the Hon. Algenon L. Marbley, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

He litigated in private practice in Ohio before working as a senior trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.

Prior to joining the USPTO, he served on the leadership team of Cut Golf, an early-stage golf equipment and apparel company. Brent provided critical counsel, analysis, and project management to the founders on a variety of matters, including IP, contracts, marketing/advertising, business development, design/performance analysis, and supply chain management, resulting in continuous sales and customer base growth for award-winning products.

Brent received a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from The Ohio State University and a Juris Doctor from Northwestern University.

Student Reflections on the Visit

  • “I’m grateful to Deputy Director Brent and to the USPTO for coming in and speaking to us. As someone who does not have a science background, it was nice to learn more about the areas of intellectual property law that I can still pursue. The most critical lessons I took away from Deputy Director Brent were to surround myself with great colleagues, immerse myself in the market, and to use law school as a tool to explore as many practice areas as possible.” – Sydney T. “Kofi” Ladans L’23
  • “The discussion with Deputy Director Derrick Brent was extremely helpful and productive. He was able to demystify a lot of myths about pursuing a career in IP and give practical advice for future attorneys. As a law student who doesn’t come from a hard science background, I most often hear about ‘not being able to do IP.’ It was reassuring to hear that this industry has opportunities for lawyers with all backgrounds, especially as technologies like AI and NFTs grow and change all areas of IP, not just patents.” – KimberMarie Faircloth L’23