Skip to main content

STEM Ph.D. Students Find Opportunities in IP Law

May 31, 2018

When Yale science Ph.D. students consider careers outside of academia, they usually bring their talents to tech companies, pharmaceutical companies, or consulting firms. Yet a local Connecticut law firm is launching Ph.D. students in the natural sciences and physical sciences into the interdisciplinary world of intellectual property law.

The internship program at Dilworth IP is the brain child of Anthony Sabatelli, a partner at the firm. Having earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Yale, Dr. Sabatelli has been closely involved with the Yale Alumni Association since 2007, where he currently serves on the Board of Governors and is also immediate past chair of the Board of the Graduate School Alumni Association. His experiences mentoring Yale graduate students as they navigate potential career paths made him realize the need to provide Ph.D. students with meaningful, real-world work experiences in academia, the private sector, and public service.

Based on my connections with the graduate students who have attended ‘Where Do I Go from Yale?’ events, we decided to run an experiment at Dilworth IP to bring in a graduate student in the latter phase of their PhD program—either in chemistry or one of the life sciences—to give them an opportunity to see what a career in patent law entails. We first did this back in 2014.  In structuring the program, we realized for it to be mutually beneficial for both the student and Dilworth IP, it would have to be more than just a mere shadowing opportunity,” Dr. Sabatelli said. “We would have to provide the student with actual projects, and provide them with opportunities to interact with other colleagues in the firm and even, as appropriate, with clients. The opportunity that we came up with is one of Technology Specialist where the student could research both the technical and legal aspects of various intellectual property-related projects in our law firm.”

The special configuration of the internship has allowed Yale Ph.D. students like Nicholas Vincent (Ph.D. ’17) to bring their expertise to bear on thorny legal matters. Vincent, whose experiences at Dilworth have inspired him to attend law school at New York University after finishing his doctorate, did research and developed communications surrounding the topic of the human microbiome—the collection of micro-organisms that reside on or inside human beings—and how it changes under the influence of disease. In his role as a technology specialist at Dilworth, he also presented a webinar with Dr. Sabatelli about microbiome-related research and co-authored a peer-reviewed paper on different aspects of microbiome research and legal considerations.

The value we bring to the firm is that we demonstrate to clients that there’s this deep knowledge base about specific scientific issues,” Vincent said. “And for me, working at Dilworth helped me explore an area of law that interests me. I also got a taste of what working in the legal profession would be like.”

David Puleo, a current Technology Specialist at Dilworth IP and Ph.D. candidate at Yale in Pharmacology, cites the scientific rigor of his academic studies as excellent training for a career in patent law. “For this field, you need to have an analytical mindset. That’s something my Ph.D. has definitely prepared me for. There’s a learning curve for other aspects of the career—the legal side—and Dr. Sabatelli is helping me with that.” David also recently had the opportunity to co-present a webinar with Dr. Sabatelli on the topic of what exactly is eligible for patent protection.

The topics interns work on at Dilworth IP even approach the philosophical at times. Mike Hinrichsen, who received his Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, is a Guest Blogger at Dilworth and has written pieces on what sorts of things can and cannot be patented. “Patents are supposed to foster innovation,” he said. “But you can’t patent natural phenomena and laws of nature. If an idea is too abstract, you can’t patent it.” The experience working at Dilworth has paid off for Hinrichsen. Recently, he accepted a position as a Technology Specialist at a Boston-area law firm.

The mutual benefits of interning at Dilworth IP are apparent to other Yale Ph.D. students working with Dr. Sabatelli. “Dilworth regularly publishes news and opinion pieces on topics related to intellectual property,” said Shin Hee Lee, a Ph.D. student in Chemistry and a guest blogger at Dilworth. “The ones that I have worked on are related to patent infringement, patent subject matter eligibility, and copyright laws. Usually, I do the research and send a draft to Anthony, Anthony then gives me his suggestions and feedback, and we go back and forth until we reach a polished piece ready for publication. In fact, this writing experience at Dilworth has significantly improved my writing skills. My recent research papers look a lot better than those in the past.”

The success of the Dilworth IP intern program also points to the strength of the Yale graduate alumni community. It was Dr. Sabatelli’s experience mentoring Yale graduate students that sparked the idea for the program, and all of the Dilworth IP interns and guest bloggers, past and present, named the graduate alumni community as one of the strengths of their Yale experience. “The Yale Alumni network is awesome,” Lee said. “All the alumni that I've ever reached out to, agreed to speak with me without any hesitation. Since they've also been where you are now, they tend to talk to you with so much care and honesty. I've been very appreciative of all of the alumni who’ve helped me—Dr. Sabatelli is just one example.”

By Sean Blink, Website and Social Media Fellow