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Austen Zuege
Austen Zuege is a patent and trademark attorney with Westman Chapman & Koehler in Minneapolis. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Trademark practice merges science, advocacy

Name: Austen Zuege

Title: Patent and trademark attorney, officer, Westman, Chapman & Koehler

Education: B.S., industrial engineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison; J.D., University of Illinois College of Law

Patent and trademark attorney Austen Zuege analyzes intellectual property rights through cases involving a menu of food products — from breakfast cereal through ice cream — in a new article.

Zuege, of Westman Chapman & Koehler in Minneapolis, explored “The delicious ironies of food product configuration protection” in an article of that title in December’s Bench & Bar of Minnesota, the Minnesota State Bar Association’s official publication.

The article cites products ranging from Shredded Wheat to Pocky and Pepero snacks, Klondike, Eskimo Pie and Dippin’ Dots ice cream treats in examining disputes over design patents and trade dress rights.

While some manufacturers aggressively assert trade dress rights over their products, they face “pushback by courts to deny trade dress rights in purely functional product configurations,” Zuege wrote. “Courts have grappled with the limits of such IP rights, seeking to prevent end-runs around the expiration of patent and copyright rights that the Constitution restricts to only limited times.”

In the long-running tension between patent law and trade dress law, claims brought under the latter are “kind of like the Hail Mary pass,” Zuege said.

Zuege’s recent results include receiving a final decision from the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in favor of a British company he defended in a trademark dispute. The company, digi.me, offers a “private sharing” app that gives users control over their online data.

Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?

A: Usually, it’s to ask me about biking or bike commuting. It’s taken a little bit of a backseat with remote work during the pandemic. But for many years, I regularly commuted to work by bike, even in the winter.

Q: Why did you go to law school?

A: To pursue a career in patent law that would bring together my interests in engineering/science and writing/advocacy.

Q: What books are you reading?

A: Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” and some history books, including “The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.” I tend to read nonfiction like philosophy, psychoanalysis, economics.

Q: What’s your pet peeve?

A: When people have speaker phone conversations in public places, shouting into the phone.

Q: Best part of your work?

A: Working with talented inventors and helping to articulate their inventive contributions and patent applications. They’re the stars, really.

Q: Least favorite?

A: Having to be a salesperson in addition to a lawyer.

Q: Favorite activity away from work?

A: Hiking and biking. Outdoors activities like that.

Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?

A: I’m from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, but my family has moved away so I don’t make it back there too often. One interesting local landmark is the Octagon House, which was a stop on the Underground Railroad. It was just down the street from my high school.

Q: Legal figure you most admire?

A: Ramsey Clark or anyone who’s a public defender. And people who work in similar capacities, like Michael Friedman, the former director of the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis, which does tremendous work. He was the former chair of the Minneapolis Civilian Police Review Authority, which I served on for four years. My time on the board was after he had left but I knew of him in that capacity.

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

A: The biggest misconception is that patent attorneys are all mere scriveners. That term gets thrown around to describe what patent attorneys do. Certainly, the inventors do deserve all the credit for inventing, but the attorneys are there to help draw out why their inventions matter against the background of all prior knowledge and invention.

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

A: One of my favorites is Kafka’s “The Trial.” There’s also a very excellent Orson Welles film version of the book. He didn’t like the book, interestingly enough, but he made a good movie version anyway.

 

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