Priya Patel and Derek Walter | Life Sciences Litigation

BCLT Careers in Tech Law podcast logo

Life sciences legal work is generally booming. But what about life sciences patent litigation? And if you are interested in this career path, what type of technical background is required? The answers may surprise you and open up new opportunities.


More on Priya Patel and Derek Walter.

Episode Transcript


Derek Walter, Wayne Stacy, Priya Patel


Wayne Stacy  00:01

Welcome, everyone to the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology’s Career Series podcast. I’m Wayne Stacy, the Executive Director for BCLT. Today, we are talking about the types of litigation work needed by Life Sciences companies, and in particular, talking about what patent litigation looks like for Life Sciences companies. So I’m here with two attorneys from Weil that are both leading experts in patent litigation, we have Derek Walter, he’s a patent partner focusing on patent litigation in both the biological and chemical areas. And then we have Priya Patel. She’s an attorney in the patent litigation practice also focusing on the life sciences areas. So thank you both for joining us today and describing a little bit about your practice.


Derek Walter  00:49

Thank you.


Wayne Stacy  00:51

So I want to start with, you know, the life sciences, patent litigation is a very specialized practice. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do day to day and what your practice would look like?


Derek Walter  01:04

Sure, I’ll go ahead and start. day to day what you do as a patent litigator, it changes over the course of your career. When you start out as an early associate, you do a lot of case building, you do a lot of analyzing prior art that might relate to patents in the case, you do a lot of analysis of the products that are an issue in the case, you do spend some time looking at documents that might be relevant to the case, you draft a lot of briefs you do spend some time doing discovery, drafting, interrogatory, ease, responding to discovery requests, drafting requests for admissions, you do a lot of that fairly often. And as you get more senior, you know, the tasks change a little bit, you know, you end up being more of a manager, you spend a lot more time doing a lot more emails with clients and other associates that are part of your team, you take on some more executive advanced skills, you know, you might spend a lot more time doing depositions, you probably spend a lot more time arguing in court. You spend less time doing kind of the work that you did early on. But, you know, those are the main tasks that go on. And on a day to day basis for patent litigator Priya might have a slightly different take on it. But that’s my take.


Priya Patel  02:26

No, I agree. I think it’s coming from as I’m a mid level associate at this point. So I’m kind of seeing that transition happen slowly. So definitely, when I was more junior associate, it was more research assignments, building, the record generally as Derek’s talking about and I continue to do that sort of thing. But now it’s more drafting responsibilities. Specifically, I also, I started out Weil and then I left to go to a clerkship and then I returned to Weil and I think since my return, I’ve been used often to draft briefs and memos, things like that, which I thoroughly enjoy. So I hope that continues even as I get senior, but my day to day sounds a lot like what Derek described.


Derek Walter  03:07

One thing I think is worth adding on this point that I think is true of patent litigation, regardless of what stage you’re at in your career, is that it’s a field that requires a lot of creativity. So even when you’re very junior, and you’re doing the work of going through documents, and drafting discovery and writing motions, you’re building the case, okay. And building the case is an act of creativity, you know, figuring out the pieces of evidence that are going to support your case, and coming up with the theories that are going to support your case, that all requires creativity. And that’s something that never goes away. Even as you become more and more senior. So, you know, this is the kind of job for people that really like to be creative, I think.


Wayne Stacy  03:49

Well, my experience was with patent litigation was on the tech side. And I knew for the tech side, middle level associates were the foundation and the engine of any team. Like you said, Derek, they’re the ones that were providing the creativity, they were the ones in the ground that saw things first, and could really help craft a case. Does it vary in the life sciences patent litigation practice?



No, I really don’t think it does. I mean, I think that’s the same both in the tech practice and in the life sciences side of things. You know, one thing that’s changed, I think, a lot over the last 15 years or so, though, is that, you know, the cases have focused a little bit more on the technology when I started practicing in this field in 2006. A lot of the cases that we had pertained to, you know, they were tech cases, like you stated, you know, they were cases that pertain to using the internet to carry out transactions via credit cards. And as, as some people probably know, over the over the years, those kinds of cases have become fewer and far between because the courts have kind of clamped down on that they said those kinds of patent aren’t eligible. And so, you know, the only way it’s changed, is it because it’s become focused a little bit more on the technology. And so, you know, it’s not a prerequisite to have the technical background in this field, but in the life sciences, it helps to have it. You know, you might be a little bit more adept at building the case.


Wayne Stacy  05:21

And when you say, technical background, does that mean, you need a PhD in the life sciences to be a life sciences, patent litigator?


Derek Walter  05:30

No, definitely not. I don’t think you need a PhD. And, you know, you don’t necessarily even need a bachelor’s degree to do it. You know, what I always tell people is that you have to be comfortable with the technology. Okay, we have to be comfortable with the science. Okay, you know, if you enjoyed the science, but you decided you like something better, in college and so you decided you want to do that in college instead of science? That’s fine. You can still do this. You just got to be comfortable with it. The one thing I always tell people, though, is that you can’t be afraid of it. Okay, if you’re afraid of it, that’s going to be a problem. Priya I don’t I don’t think you have a PhD.


Priya Patel  06:07

Nope, I just have I mean, I studied biology in undergrad, but I don’t have a PhD Derek does, but I don’t.


Wayne Stacy  06:14

Oh, Priya, you mentioned your clerkship and how the time kinds of tasks you were doing in a law firm changed when you came back? Can you tell us a little bit more about that? And then in the value of a clerkship for somebody pursuing a an IP litigation path?


Priya Patel  06:30

Yeah, I mean, I think I will, I will always say a clerkship has great value. For me personally, it does. My co clerks, I think, agree as well. The biggest part of it is that you’re aware of kind of the hot issues that are coming up, coming out of your clerkship, and more broadly, you’re building long term research and writing skills. And I think, sure, when I returned to the firm, my tasks did change. That’s important. Because, you know, I, I’m a higher level associate. Now, I’m not no longer a junior associate. But at the same time, I do think that the firm recognizes that there are certain skills that were built during my clerkship that they want to use when I come back. So in that regard, I definitely think a clerkship was valuable.


Wayne Stacy  07:16

So looking into the future a little bit, what’s the future of litigation work in the life sciences field, is this a rising or falling field?


Derek Walter  07:28

That’s a broad question. What I can tell you is that in the, in the 16 years that I’ve been doing this, there, there hasn’t been a shortage of work, and we’ve only become busier over the last few years. Even even during the pandemic, there’s been no shortage of work, it’s been one of one of the busiest years we’ve had. So, you know, litigation is something that ebbs and flows. But it as far as I can tell, things seem to keep getting busier and busier, you know, particularly as new technology develops and expands. You know, one area where we work a lot is in the area of genomics and next generation sequencing. Okay, and you know, that that is a technology field, that’s just expanded tremendously over the years. And with that expansion, there’s been all sorts of follow on technology on related to it, whether it comes to analysis of next generation sequencing data, technology, for preparing samples, for next generation sequencing data, or new diagnostics, based on next generation sequencing data. All of these things are spinning out technologies that people are generating patents in, and they’re suing each other over these patents. And so there’s, there’s been no shortage of work in those areas over the last few years. And the, you know, doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing. As far as I can tell.


Priya Patel  08:59

I’ll just add, you mean, I mean, a lot of Life Sciences patents are directed to drugs, and there’s never gonna stop, people are always going to be developing drugs, right. In that sense, industry was always gonna grow. There’s always gonna be work.


Wayne Stacy  09:13

Priya I’ll give you the last question here. If you’re talking to law students, what classes do they need to ease their their transition into private practice? If they’re going to do patent litigation?


Priya Patel  09:28

Well, certainly patent law. I think that’s a obviously an important one for this laboratory matter. I think one that people don’t think about is administrative law. You know, a lot of what we do can be before the USPTO or before the ITC. So understanding kind of the confines of those jurisdictions is important. So administrative law patent law. Derek, do you have it here, I think at least Well, I went to GW and we had very specific classes. We had some ITC litigation classes, we have things like that. So to the extent that your law school provides more specific classes focus on different areas of patent law, I would encourage you to take those classes as well.


Derek Walter  10:09

Yeah, I do have one, one thought on that. One thing that I think is important for people who are interested in patent litigation, is to take a good trial practice class. We do go to trial as patent litigators. Now, you know, if you’re someone that just wants to go to trial and wants to do trial over and over and over again, and that’s why they’ve gone to law school patent litigation might not be the best thing for you, because we don’t go to trial. We don’t go to trial five, six times a year. But we do go to trial a couple times a year, usually. And those are big events. And you know, having a good trial practice course under your belt will help you tremendously, I think.


Wayne Stacy  10:49

Well, thank you both for your time today. Very interesting to learn about your practice and what do you think the future holds. Hopefully, we’ll talk again soon.


Derek Walter  10:59

Thank you.


Priya Patel  11:00

Thank you.