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Ryan C. Smith
Ryan C. Smith worked as a patent examiner in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before going into private practice, which helps him counsel clients. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Local attorney leads national IP firm’s practice group

Name: Ryan C. Smith

Title: Partner, Merchant & Gould’s Minneapolis office

Education: J.D., William Mitchell College of Law; B.S., biology, Ph.D., pharmacology, Creighton University

Online retail’s explosion during the pandemic only highlighted the need to protect intellectual property, according to Ryan C. Smith, a partner in Merchant & Gould’s Minneapolis office.

The firm recently chose Smith as a leader of its nationwide patent design and trade dress group. Trade dress and design patents can secure intellectual property faster than utility patents, Smith said.

“Design patents and trade dress are a great avenue to expand an intellectual property portfolio, whether you’re a garage inventor/startup or a Fortune 50 company,” Smith said.

Smith worked as a patent examiner in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before going into private practice, which helps him counsel clients.

“I don’t look at an examiner as my enemy,” Smith said. “I look at an examiner as someone who’s just trying to determine the patent scope that an inventor can obtain.”

Smith is leading the group with Loretta L. Freeman, an Atlanta partner.

Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?

A: Let’s talk football. Preferably Chicago Bears or Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Q: Why did you go to law school?

A: I’m interested in a lot of things. My options if I decided to take a traditional route would have been going into industry or becoming an academic scientist. I felt it would appeal to my interests of being curious about lots of different aspects of science by going into patent law.

Q: What books are you reading?

A: One of my daughters is a rising ninth-grader and has a summer reading list, so we’re doing a mini book club. We’re reading “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Animal Farm,” which I’ve read before. My all-time favorite books are “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama and “Into Thin Air.”

Q: What’s your pet peeve?

A: I don’t like excuses, at home with kids and in the workplace.

Q: Best part of your work?

A: Working with my clients. That can be both internal and external. Also mentoring young associates and seeing that light bulb click on where they learn a skill set that can enhance their career.

Q: Least favorite?

A: Administrative duties. While they are essential, a law firm is a business and we’re required to have those meetings and those duties, they take away from the fun aspects of my job and at times can interfere with life outside of work.

Q: Favorite activity away from work?

A: I’m a bit of a gym rat. I like to weight-lift. I’ve enjoyed it since high school and that’s something I do pretty regularly. Between that and coaching or going to my kids’ sporting events, that keeps me busy outside of my job.

Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?

A: If you’re going to come with me to Omaha, Nebraska, where I did a significant portion of my education, I’d take you to Barrett’s. It’s a great bar and grill especially for the pork tenderloin sandwich, which is only served on Thursdays and Fridays.

Q: Legal figure you most admire?

A: Not because I necessarily agree with one or the other, but I was always fascinated by Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You would read the opinions and see a scathing dissent by one or the other against the other’s opinion. But they were best friends outside of the workplace. Their relationship was a great example of what we should do as a society.

Q: Misconception that others have about your work as an attorney?

A: In my practice, a lot of people think that attorneys can’t be scientists. But that blend of science and law can coexist on a daily basis at least for a patent attorney.

Q: Favorite book, movie or TV show about lawyers?

A: “Matlock” or “Law & Order.” Law TV series like these were great because the case could be solved so quickly. They didn’t drive me to become a lawyer but I have memories of watching those shows on TV.


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