From Pipettes to Patent Law

Thara Russell, JD '12

Thara Russell, JD ’12

Like many undergraduates, Thara Russell, LAW JD ’12, planned her post-graduation career path down to a tee. A biology major at the University of Virginia, she focused on advanced genetics research and had been accepted to PhD programs across the country. All was going smoothly, until, in her words, she had a bit of a career path crisis.

“All of a sudden, I thought: This isn’t the path for me,” Thara remembers. She realized that the lab work and research of an academic scientist wasn’t as appealing as writing and talking about the science as it applies to people every day—and that’s when she heard about patent law. “As a patent lawyer, I would be able to talk with inventors and write about cutting-edge science, but would not be stuck in the lab.”

When her acceptance to GW Law—known for its top caliber intellectual property (IP) law program—came in the mail, the decision was easy.

From the robust course offerings and high-quality events to its location at the heart of patent law practice in D.C., GW Law is a tough place to beat in terms of studying—and ultimately practicing IP law, says Thara. “Honestly, I think that GW Law’s whole intellectual property law program is one big ‘Only at GW’ moment.”

On campus, Thara became fully immersed in the IP law community of both GW and D.C. She was involved in the GW Student Bar Association and the South Asian Law Student Association and served as the executive production editor of the American IP Law Association Quarterly Journal. She also became president of the GW Student IP Law Association (SIPLA), leading its expansion to 200 members and hosting IP events featuring leaders in the field. Her involvement in GW’s IP law community also helped her to forge a relationship with Dean for Intellectual Property Law Studies John Whealan, who recommended her for an internship with Judge Susan Braden of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

“My extracurricular activities had a huge impact on my educational opportunities as a law student,” Thara says. “I got to know a lot of my classmates and a number of practicing lawyers through those activities—law school wouldn’t have been nearly as rich for me without them.”

A summer associate position at Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider LLP, a boutique IP litigation and antitrust firm, became a full-time position for her after graduation. There, she developed patent validity and invalidity positions, crafted trial strategies, and worked extensively with expert consultants and witnesses. Within just two years, she had helped to successfully represent a medical device manufacturer of spinal implants against a competitor in U.S. district court, a rare opportunity for a junior associate, which resulted in a multi-million dollar damages award. She also helped to successfully defend an international airline manufacturer and a pharmaceutical client against patent infringement allegations.

“It’s exciting to learn from experts in various scientific and legal fields about new technology, but I’ve also more generally come to enjoy seeing the justice system in action and being a part of the patent system,” Thara says. “In the big picture, patents are intended to help get the best inventions out there, and I get to play a role in the checks and balances that protect novel technology and incentivize creativity.”

Last month, Thara began the next step of her journey, joining nationally-recognized D.C.-based patent counseling and prosecution firm Bookoff McAndrews as an associate. She credits GW Law with preparing her well for the fast-paced and demanding field of patent law right out of the gate and helping her stand out in the competitive job market.

“I think GW Law’s IP program gave me a very, very solid foundation,” she says. “And both Axinn and Bookoff McAndrews have a number of GW Law alumni, so I can take the GW community with me throughout my career so far.”

—Carey Russell


The author is proud to disclose that Thara is not only an inspiring GW alumna but also her sister-in-law. Want to share your GW story? Email us at
cable@gwu.edu.

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