“I am surrounded by people who are not only fountains of knowledge with regards to patent law, but also extremely passionate about the field.”
A powerful foundation for practicing patent law
Lu's training in both engineering and law constitute a powerful foundation for a future patent law attorney, and an ideal background for a successful judicial clerkship with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), where he is currently serving. Lu completed his bachelor’s of science degree in bioengineering from the University of California, San Diego in 2017 before receiving his juris doctor from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Lu is also currently pursuing a master of science degree in electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, an indication of his love for both the legal and technical side of the intellectual property field.
“The patent law and other IP law classes I took in law school (especially training in legal writing) were vital in enabling me to dive right into the substance of the various cases I’ve worked on in my clerkship,” Lu says.
During law school, Lu was actively looking for opportunities to get involved in the patent law field. After he discovered that the PTAB was looking to hire judicial law clerks, he jumped at the chance. “I knew I had to apply,” Lu explains. “There weren’t many other positions out there that could give me such a deep level of experience in patent law.”
Benefitting from ‘fountains of knowledge’
Since beginning his clerkship at the agency in September 2020, Lu has come to value the working environment. “My favorite thing about working at the USPTO and the PTAB is that I am surrounded by people who are not only fountains of knowledge with regards to patent law, but also extremely passionate about the field,” Lu says. “I feel like I can ask any question, regardless of how tangential or complex, and I will be able to find someone who will both answer the question and engage in a full discussion with me, so that I walk away having learned something significant.”
Usually that ‘someone’ is a PTAB judge. In his clerkship role, Lu supports judges in a variety of ways. He may analyze the merits and arguments of a case, cite check, proofread a draft document, or provide support to the PTAB executive committee in the form of research and reporting that serves USPTO stakeholders. “I’m usually very busy all day with working on one or more of these things,” Lu says. “But the coolest part is being able to pick the brains of the judges… I have a personal habit of always asking the judges what they liked and disliked about an attorney’s argument or presentation [in a proceeding]. It’s given me a unique insight as to what I should do or avoid once I start practicing.”
In fact, Lu set a goal for himself upon coming to the PTAB to “gain experience in all the trial stuff that they don’t really teach you in law school—things like discovery disputes, protective orders, motions, and others.” He’s been able to gain lots of experience with these aspects of law by reaching out to judges and being a continually present listener.
The USPTO experience
Lu loves working at the USPTO because it reaches across so many different fields, especially since it is uniquely positioned as a federal agency with (non-federal) business stakeholders.
He also appreciates the people he works with. “I think the employee’s themselves are the USPTO’s greatest asset,” Lu says. “Having great co-workers is one of the most important things to look for in a job, and each person I’ve met here so far is extremely friendly, genuinely cares about the work being done, and always has something interesting to talk about.”
How to be a successful judicial law clerk
Lu advises others who are considering becoming a judicial law clerk at the PTAB to foster the following skills:
Proficiency and passion in patent law: “The judges expect that we have a strong grasp of patent law and give us tasks at the very start of our clerkships that dive right into the meat of various issues,” Lu explains.
Rock-solid legal analysis and writing skills: “Judges expect us to help with reviewing briefs submitted by parties, analyzing arguments, explaining the arguments during a conference, and ultimately assist in drafting the opinion for the case,” Lu says. “If we can’t clearly articulate our rationale in our legal analysis, then we won’t be very useful to our judges.”
Communication and teamwork: “As with any team-based job or work, good communication among various team members is key. Also, everyone here is extremely friendly, open, and knowledgeable, so good communication skills are vital to allow you to fully benefit from the experience,” Lu says.
In sum, Lu shares that “the number one thing that the judges are looking for here is that you have a genuine interest in patent law.” He suggests law school students explore their interest in the field through taking a class, observing a live patent litigation hearing, or just talking to patent practitioners.
Thanks to both law school and his clerkship, Lu has acquired plenty of experience doing all three of those things, and will head into his career as a patent attorney with a wealth of skills, knowledge, and practice that will be hard not to notice.