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Aaron Fahrenkrog, who earned a chemical engineering degree, decided on law school after hearing a patent attorney speak about how his work involved math and science. (Submitted photo)
Aaron Fahrenkrog, who earned a chemical engineering degree, decided on law school after hearing a patent attorney speak about how his work involved math and science. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Simple question informs patent attorney’s approach

Name: Aaron Fahrenkrog

Title: Partner, Robins Kaplan

Education: B.S., chemical engineering, Iowa State University; J.D., University of Iowa Law School

Aaron Fahrenkrog, partner at Robins Kaplan, approaches complex patent cases with a simple question: “What difference does it make?”

With patent law changing over the past decade and continuing to be a dynamic area, Fahrenkrog looks at what a change means on its face and digs deeper to learn what’s driving that change.

That “top down” view helps him explain to a judge or jury why a client deserves damages or patent protection.

“Unless you can communicate on a basic human level what difference it makes, you’re not going to connect with them,” Fahrenkrog said. “It shaped my whole practice and how I go about not just patents but any kind of case.”

Fahrenkrog learned the importance of asking simple questions — such as “What difference does it make?” — early in his career from his mentor, Robins Kaplan partner William Manning.

The detail-oriented Fahrenkrog was completing a chemical engineering degree when a poor job market in that field prompted him to consider a change. He decided on law school after hearing a patent attorney speak about how his work involved math and science.

Fahrenkrog has participated in preparing damage models exceeding a billion dollars and has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars in patent and technology licensing litigation.

Q: What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A: Ask me about what I’m reading because I enjoy reading a ton I try to always have one book going outside of my work.

Q: What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A: I just finished “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” by Marlon James and would recommend it.

Q: What is a pet peeve of yours?

A: Typos and formatting errors. People that I work with know that I’m very picky about typos and formatting because I want to present the good work that we do in the best way possible.

Q: What are your favorite aspects of being an attorney?

A: Working with people. The No. 1 thing I try to focus on every day is my job is to make somebody else’s life easier.

Q: Least favorite?

A: I hesitate to identify any least favorite aspect because another perspective that I try to keep is things are going to be difficult, of course, but every aspect of the work that we’re asked to do or that we do on behalf of our clients is a critical piece of solving their problem and making their life easier.

Q: What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A: Two children, so as much time as I can spend with them I do. I keep it pretty simple: family, reading, exercise and work.

Q: If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A: If somebody visited me in Minneapolis, I would take them outside somewhere regardless of what time of year it is because I think it’s beautiful in all seasons. If I had the chance I would drive them to the North Shore of Lake Superior because it’s one of the most fantastic places on Earth.

Q: Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most?

A: Every lawyer that I work with or against or every judge that I appear in front of, I try to learn from them and try to improve the way I practice.

Q: What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney?

A: The biggest misconception is that all attorneys like to argue, and I don’t like to argue. I mean I will argue. But that’s not why I practice law. It’s because I want to help other people and help make their lives easier.

Q: What is your favorite depiction of the legal professional in popular culture?

A: I’m not sure it’s the most accurate day-to-day depiction of the law or representing clients but “Michael Clayton” is my favorite popular culture reference on the law.

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