“The USPTO is extremely friendly and a bit nerdy—in a good way!
Everyone seems to genuinely enjoy learning about tricky issues of law or new technologies.”
Keaton attended college in his home state at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities—and happens to have a twin brother. His Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry then led to a Juris Doctor from William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he held an externship in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Even before joining the USPTO, Keaton did the legwork to make sure that a nuanced understanding of the USPTO was part of his skillset. In law school, he had written an intriguing paper on the USPTO’s AIA trials and their effect on the cost of patent litigation. “AIA trials were not heavily covered in my patent law casework at school, and my paper inspired me to learn more. I had always loved the idea of clerking, so a clerkship that included AIA trial experience was a perfect fit.”
All in a day’s work
Keaton’s typical day is highly variable depending on what types of cases he’s currently working on. “In the morning I may be reviewing the papers of the parties, organizing arguments and picking out key points of contention. From there, around noon, I may meet with a judge to discuss or send them my proposal on the outcome of a case via email or instant message,” describes Keaton. “If the judge agrees, I may draft the outline of the case although I would not provide an analysis, as a final decision by at least three APJs has not been made yet. Later, I may be able to watch a hearing if there is one scheduled. If not, I’ll research additional case law or work on another assignment. After a hearing and a final conference with the APJ panel has occurred on a case that I am working on, I will spend the afternoon drafting the opinion based upon the decision made by the APJs.”
Certain tricky cases have challenged Keaton. “In law school, I relied on secondary sources as they often provide great, short, understandable summaries. When it comes to patent law, there aren’t many secondary sources because the developments in the law are more recent,” Keaton explains.
He instead used related concepts, analogous cases, and took advantage of KeyCites to locate similar issues. When Keaton’s first draft decision to institute was issued, it was a major accomplishment because it was his first major writing project with the PTAB. “While it obviously underwent major revisions by the judges on the panel, it was exciting to see my work in some way published,” he says.
Enjoying the USPTO’s culture—now and perhaps in the future
Keaton describes the USPTO’s culture as “extremely friendly and a bit nerdy—in a good way!” He appreciates how “everyone seems to genuinely enjoy learning about tricky issues of law or new technologies.”
What really makes the difference to Keaton is that “everyone is very welcoming and happy to help each other get up to speed at the USPTO, even if it initially creates a bit more work for them… the judges are always willing to help, but they don’t do the work for you. They push law clerks to grow and learn outside their initial comfort zone, which really helped me develop my skills.”
Keaton advises future PTAB law clerk aspirants to have the following qualities:
- A willingness to learn and ask ‘stupid’ questions. “You spend most of your time interacting with people who have 20+ years of experience in patent law, while you have one to two.”
- Actual interest in technology and patent law. “Work is much more enjoyable when you find the proceeding interesting or cool.”
- Self-direction and management. “The judges at the Board respect their clerks and believe they are able to manage their own deadlines and workloads without too much micromanaging.”
Keaton has worked hard to develop all three qualities in himself in pursuit of his patent law career. After his clerkship, Keaton will be joining the patent litigation group of a large private sector law firm.
You never know if he will be back with the USPTO in the future. “After working with the Administrative Patent Judges at the PTAB, I think my aspirations have changed slightly in that I would enjoy being an APJ someday in the future,” Keaton says with a smile.