One year ago I was in a maximum security prison. I was on duty, as a member of the trial bar of the Northern District of Illinois, appointed by the Court to represent a prisoner. I visited my client in a downstate prison, and I took a deposition of correctional officers inside the forbidding walls of Stateville. The case is still pending; I won’t comment on any of the specifics.

Last year’s Thanksgiving holiday came immediately after my prison visit, and I was surprised by the strong sense of gratitude I felt just to be alive and outside of prison walls. That thankfulness is with me still, and again, this year.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—we’re told in the Declaration of Independence—are the inalienable rights that our Government was created to protect.

Life

I won’t dwell here on the meaning of life. I am alive as I write these words; you are cognizant as you read them. Beyond that, I leave the subject to philosophers, theologians and college entrance essayists.

Liberty

When I visited a prisoner, the value I set on liberty rose by several orders of magnitude. Until then, I didn’t think much about incarceration on either an individual or a collective basis. Now, I’m much more aware of the economic and human costs and ramifications.

Along the same lines, twenty-some years ago, I visited countries that had been dominated by the former Soviet Union, and I met a young patent attorney who told me that she didn’t think she could ever in her lifetime adapt to a “market economy”; she hoped that her children would adjust better.

I couldn’t grasp the meaning of my Eastern European friend’s words.

She explained that when she visited friends in Paris, she was horrified to see them take out a camera and take photos in a park. “You think you can do everything that is not prohibited,” she said, “but I think I can do only that which is expressly authorized.” The two mindsets are opposed so that I had never begun to understand the authoritarian-dominated mind; ironically, her repressed mind had started exploring thought and action without limits.

Pursuit of Happiness

At the annual World Congress of the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (AIPPI), I often meet and converse with a certain patent attorney from India.

In one such conversation, after talking about the nature of inventors, my Indian friend asked me, “What do we sell?”

Based on the thread of the conversation, I replied, “Dreams?”

“Yes, dreams,” he said. He told me that he had filed and was prosecuting a patent application for a poor vegetable farmer. The subject matter was the stuff of science fiction. He was handling the matter pro bono. Why? Because it gave his client hope.

That’s one thing the patent system provides: Hope for inventors that they will profit from their inventions. After all, the system’s goal is to advance the progress of technology by offering incentives and rewards to inventors.

Patent attorneys like me usually have one foot anchored in technology. We understand inventors and their inventions and motivations.

I come from humble roots; my first trip overseas came two years after law school graduation, in a short interlude between a judicial clerkship and the commencement of law practice. Last month I traveled to the last of the four rising BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries I’ve visited, this time, Brazil.

For my part, I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve clients in intellectual property matters. Years ago, when selecting IP/patent law as my chosen specialty, I made the choice because I thought I could do something positive for people and their businesses. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been rewarding and satisfying.

Thank you.