While David Spears works as a patent attorney today at Harness Dickey, one of Michigan’s largest intellectual property law firms, fans once knew him for something else: MSU football.
“I came to Michigan State, I was football player there, and that was my life—and I’m not saying it’s a good thing or anything—but I was going to play football for them, and figure out the rest later,” Spears said about his first years at MSU, which began in the fall of 2008.
His mindset didn’t last long before personal mentors—the first being his cousin, who Spears lived with for a time and who worked as a criminal defense attorney—advised him to make a game plan for his life.
“[My cousin] used to come home with all these different cases,” Spears explained. “He did political science, pre-law in undergraduate, went to law school. One day he said to me, ‘you said you like math and science. Do engineering, and if you still want to go to law school after that, you can still go to law school.’”
He'd set his game plan. Spears came to MSU and played football from 2008 until 2010, which took up a lot of his free time. His undergraduate degree in engineering took six years to complete, including a year off of college to intern at DTE Energy and Ford Motor Company.
“When the football days were over, I still wanted to go to law school,” Spears said. “And I started to take steps while I was finishing engineering to go to law school: taking the LSAT, things like that.”
Spears started working for MSU Technologies at the MSU Innovation Center during his first year of law school in May 2014. It was there, while working as a commercialization intern, that Spears gained his first experience in intellectual property law.
“At law school that first year, you’re taking your general courses: constitutional law, criminal law, contracts, civil procedures.” Spears said. “I wasn’t taking any intellectual property courses. That internship at the tech transfer office was my first introduction into IP.”
Spears stayed on with MSU Technologies during his first year of law school before Harness Dickey offered him a summer associate position. Not until he left MSU Technologies did he realize how valuable his time there had been.
“Going into that first year as a summer associate at Harness Dickey, I knew what all this stuff was,” Spears remarked. “I had seen it before. A lot of those things I’m doing now, I was introduced to or had worked on at the Innovation Center, which helped my confidence as I continued to learn more.”
Spears recently passed the bar exam and the patent bar exam, both requirement in becoming an intellectual property attorney. He has worked for Harness Dickey for three years, where he says he is “still learning.”
“[At Harness Dickey] I was able to learn a lot and have projects in a number of different facets,” Spears stated. “For example, I’d draft patent applications for clients. I would prosecute the application before the United States Patent Exchange. I have conducted Freedom to Operate searches, worked with other countries' patent offices, etc…”
Spears is proud of how far he’s come thanks to the mentors he has held at every level of his career.
“It’s at times breathtaking because the greatest feeling for me is to be in a position to say I am accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish,” Spears explained. “A lot of times, what happens is you start out as an undergrad saying ‘I want to do x, y and z,’ but then life happens. I was extremely fortunate to get to where I am today, and I didn’t get here by myself.”
Spears's thanks his many personal and professional mentors at all levels for his success, and includes becoming a mentor himself as one of his goals because intellectual property as an idea was “foreign" in environment he grew up in.
“I want to be able to continue to learn,” Spears stated about his future goals. “Eventually have my own clients, and just be able to give back to others who come from a similar background as me, that are less fortunate—help educate them on IP law, how to protect their creativity, and hopefully I can change some people’s lives in that regard.”