Blog: Albert Abbou

Albert Abbou is an intellectual property attorney at Brinks, Hofer, Gilson & Lione. Albert received his J.D. from Ave Maria School of Law, Ann Arbor, MI, and earned a B.S. in electrical engineering, as well as a minor in Business/Supply Chain Management, from Michigan State University. He grew up in West Bloomfield, MI and has been living in Ann Arbor, MI since 2005. Prior to attending law school, Albert worked as an engineer for Alcoa and DTE Energy.

Albert will be writing about being a 20something living and working in Ann Arbor, his Chaldean roots and where he thinks IP fits into Ann Arbor's economic future.

Albert Abbou - Most Recent Posts:

Albert Abbou - Post 5

Despite the cryptic nature of patents and the various nuances associated with the law, I found the study of patent law absolutely intriguing. Upon completing my first course in patent law, I decided to become a patent attorney. The only decision that I had left to make was where I wanted to practice. It’s strange, because I always presumed that I would leave Michigan for a warmer climate the first chance I had.  Well, having received several job offers from out-of-state law firms, I finally had an opportunity to take off. Ultimately though, I concluded that I wanted to remain in Michigan for several reasons.

First, having decided to pursue a career in patent law, Michigan seemed like a logical choice. At the time, Michigan was experiencing an increasing trend in the number of patents being issued to in-state companies. This trend, of course, was primarily compelled by the automotive industry, as companies such as General Motors and Ford have consistently been among the top ranked companies in obtaining automotive-related patents. Accordingly, I believed it made sense to practice in an area such as Michigan where patents relating to a technology I was interested in are heavily obtained.

Despite the current state of our economy, I still believe that Michigan was the right choice, and I hope to be able contribute my services as a patent attorney to help get our state heading in the right direction again. Although the automotive industry is struggling mightily right now, it is worth noting that Michigan is one of the highest ranked states in research and development with respect to the technological arts. 

While this factor alone may not be determinative of success, I do believe that innovation can help lead our state out of the current recession.  As stated by Eugene R. Quinn, a well known patent attorney, "[p]atents need to issue to independent inventors, start-ups and small businesses so that they can attract investors and raise capital necessary to expand. It is the creation of small businesses and the expansion of existing small businesses that will lead to jobs and jobs are what will get us out of this recession."

In addition to practicing in a relevant area, I love living in Ann Arbor.  Along with providing a socially pleasant college-based atmosphere, the city offers a large and diverse group of young professionals, which I believe is also a positive indication for our future economy.  Secondly, Southeast Michigan is home to the largest Chaldean-American community in the United States. Being a Chaldean-American, this fact played a critical role in my decision to remain in Michigan, especially since a very small minority of Chaldeans leave Michigan upon settling here. This is not very surprising, as most Chaldeans have remained loyal to Michigan because the Michigan auto industry helped establish such a strong foundation of Chaldean-Americans in the first place. For many Chaldeans, Michigan personifies the “land of opportunity,” as the state has helped Arab-Americans grow from simple laborers working in factories to very successful businessmen and professionals. 

In sum, I’m here because I truly enjoy working and living in a beautiful and vibrant city. And despite the struggling Michigan economy, I strongly believe that our state offers tremendous potential for success. Finally, like the majority of Chaldean-American friends that I grew up with, I am simply too attached to our deeply rooted Chaldean community.

Albert Abbou - Post 4: Explaining IP Law

As noted in my previous post, many critics take issue with the fact that judges have the role of interpreting patent claims. Analogously, some critics also disapprove of the current process in which patent infringement is found during patent litigation. Once a judge has construed the meaning of a claim, it is generally up to a jury to conclude whether or not the patent claim has been infringed by a so-called "accused product."

Generally speaking, patent infringement exists if an accused product consists of each element recited in the claim at issue. While this may sound straightforward, the actual process of making this determination can be quite complicated. Like the judge, members of the jury rarely have a strong technical background with respect to the invention. Thus, it can be rather difficult for a juror to assess whether a product contains each element of a claim if the juror cannot understand what the invention actually is or how it works. Another issue is that an accused product is typically not an exemplary prototype of the claimed invention. For instance, a given product may infringe a patent claim even if the product is facially quite distinguishable than the invention recited by the claims.

More particularly, consider a patent claim directed to a Flintstones-type car that recites two wheels, a car body, and a steering wheel. Based on this example, a modern day car would arguably be found to infringe the foregoing claim, notwithstanding the fact that modern cars are fundamentally different.  That is, it makes no difference whether the car has four tires instead of two, is run by an engine, etc., so long as the car includes every element recited in the claim. While infringement can be simply seen in this case, it can be appreciated that finding infringement is much more demanding when a product and its corresponding elements are complex, not well known, and referred to by various names.  For instance, it is much more difficult for a juror to conclude whether a product contains a certain element if the juror cannot understand what the element is.

Accordingly, some critics propose that patent law cases should only be tried by judges having technical backgrounds. Similarly, other critics suggest that patents should be litigated in courts specifically designated to judge patent law cases. In essence, critics believe that either of these approaches would ensure more efficient and just outcomes than those produced by the current model.

In any event, the foregoing examples merely provide a glimpse of the intricacies associated with patent law, many of which I am still in the process of learning. I am told that as a rule of thumb, it takes two to three years before a patent attorney actually becomes comfortable in drafting a patent application. Although two to three years may not appear to be very long, drafting patent applications hardly encompasses all of the tasks involved in the profession. For instance, it may take years to become familiar with filing patents internationally, licensing patents, litigating and enforcing patents, etc. In other words, one may become a relatively competent patent drafter after only a few years, but it may take a decade or two for a patent attorney to truly become well versed in the field. Nonetheless, I look forward to the process.

Albert Abbou - Post 3: Why Michigan?

In the fall of 2005, I moved to Ann Arbor to attend law school at Ave Maria School of Law. Having a technical background, I decided to consider pursuing a career in patent law. After taking just my first class in the subject, I was absolutely captivated by it. For those of you who know little of the field, let’s just say that in many ways, patent law exemplifies the common belief that lawyers take something that is perfectly legible to an ordinary observer, and transform it to a nearly incomprehensible legal instrument. Don’t believe me? 

Consider the invention below:



As many of you may recognize, the picture above illustrates a Starbucks cup holder designed to protect your hand from a hot cup of coffee. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well now consider the following patent claim (i.e., the portion of a patent which defines the extent of protection afforded by the patent) covering this invention:

A recyclable, insulating beverage container holder, comprising a corrugated tubular member comprising cellulosic material and at least a first opening therein for receiving and retaining a beverage container, said corrugated tubular member comprising fluting means for containing insulating air; said fluting means comprising fluting adhesively attached to a liner with a recyclable adhesive. 

See Claim 1 of U.S. Patent No. 5,205,473.  Still sound simple? 

In any event, upon completing my first course in patent law, I was fascinated by the cryptic nature of patents, and decided that I wanted to become a patent attorney. The only decision that I had left to make was where I wanted to practice. It’s strange, because I always presumed that I would leave Michigan for a warmer climate the first chance I had. Well having received several job offers from out-of-state law firms, I finally had an opportunity to take off. Ultimately though, I concluded that I wanted to remain in Michigan for several reasons. 

First, I love living in Ann Arbor. In addition to providing a socially pleasant college-based atmosphere, the city offers a large and diverse group of young professionals, which I believe is a positive indication for our future economy.  Secondly, Southeast Michigan is home to the largest Chaldean-American community in the United States. 

Being a Chaldean-American, this fact played a critical role in my decision to remain in Michigan, especially since a very small minority of Chaldeans leave Michigan upon settling here. This is not very surprising, as most Chaldeans have remained loyal to Michigan since it was the Michigan auto industry that helped establish such a strong foundation of Chaldean-Americans in the first place. For many Chaldeans, Michigan personifies the "land of opportunity," as the state has helped Arab-Americans grow from simple laborers working in factories to very successful businessmen and professionals.  

In sum, I’m here because I truly enjoy working and living in a beautiful and vibrant city. And despite the struggling Michigan economy, I strongly believe that our state offers tremendous potential for success. Finally, like the majority of Chaldean-American friends that I grew up with, I am simply too attached to our deeply rooted Chaldean community.


Albert Abbou - Post 2: What now?

Notwithstanding the fact that I had successfully earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, I had very little else going for me. While I had interned for my uncles’ firm for a couple of summers as a student, my experience was limited to the business aspect of the company. 

In other words, I lacked any type of technical experience, and I graduated with a mediocre G.P.A. amounting to about a 3.2. What’s worse is that up until my senior year of college, I had maintained a G.P.A. of a 3.5 or higher. Yet I was so eager to finish school and graduate so that I could begin working for uncles, I severely overloaded my final two semesters. 

In addition to the heavy load, I idiotically took on two jobs so that I may save up enough money for my "senior spring break."  Although it did not take long for me to learn that it would be nearly impossible to keep up with my studies and maintain two jobs, I stubbornly refused to drop any classes or resign from either job. Naturally, my G.P.A. plummeted. So after three years of hard work and dedication, I essentially forfeited a G.P.A. that may have compensated for my lack of technical experience in attempting to secure a post-graduate engineering position.

Nevertheless, approximately four or five months after graduation, I caught a break and landed my very first job interview with Alcoa, a large aluminum company. That same day, Alcoa extended me a job offer, which I fervently accepted. I worked for Alcoa for about six months, and then went on to work for DTE Energy for another six months. 

While working for merely a year is obviously a brief duration, it was more than enough for me to realize that I did not want to live the rest of my life working as an engineer. Simply put, I found the work to be very dull and non-rewarding. It also did not help that at both, Alcoa and DTE Energy, the workplace seemed entirely void of any sort of enthusiasm. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the majority of the employees at both companies held salaried positions (i.e., the employees simply may not have cared how hard they worked since they would earn the same amount of money regardless of the amount of hours they put in).  Whatever the reason, in February of 2005, I decided that I was going to pursue a new line of work.

Realizing that my engineering degree left me with few alternatives, I decided to go back to school and obtain a post-graduate degree. Based on my background, I eventually narrowed down my choices to either law school or med school.  Initially, law school did not appeal to me very much, mainly because I had always been more of a math and science oriented student. In addition, I grew up with the belief that I never wanted to become an attorney since the position predominantly involves reading and writing, neither of which I excelled it. On the other hand, I knew that the road to becoming a doctor required courses such as anatomy and biology, which, to be generous, I had never been very fond of.   

Being uncertain of which path to take, I decided to consult my father for advice.  My father is a board-certified doctor specializing in Obstetrics and Gynaecology.  That said, I was taken quite aback when my father non-hesitatingly recommended that I become an attorney. In fact, he claimed that if he had the opportunity to do it all over again, he never would not have become a doctor.  Taking his words to heart, I opted to take the LSAT and apply for law school. 

Albert Abbou - Post 1: My First Real Lesson in Life

As I look back on the past ten years of my life and reflect on where I was and what I was thinking, I cannot help but to be amazed as to how vastly different my professional career has materialized in comparison to my original expectations. Admittedly, I am relatively young and therefore a bit naïve with respect to certain aspects of life, as I have yet to endure many instances which lead one to appreciate the notion that nothing ever turns out as expected. 

I am the type of person that has a plan for everything, and generally speaking, once I set a plan in motion, rarely do I fall astray from it. As such, I find it rather astonishing that I have taken up law, as a legal career was one path that I absolutely never planned for. Growing up, I always imagined that I would follow the footsteps of my father and become a doctor. All changed after taking my first biology class.

Nevertheless, as I entered my freshmen year of college, I was of the belief that I knew exactly what I would be doing upon graduation. In particular, I assumed that I was going to enter the "family business," so to speak. A few of my uncles own a very successful international engineering firm based out of Nigeria, with satellite offices located in various countries, including England and the United States. My uncles began the company from scratch over 30 years ago, and have since seen it grow from a fairly small industrial firm limited to local projects to a globally-minded company conducting business all across the world. In light of my uncles’ accomplishments, they have always yearned for the company to stay in the family. As one of my uncles put it, they wanted their sons and nephews to "carry the flag." 

Not many of my relatives, however, were very eager to take on the role as future leaders of the company, as the job required frequent visits to Nigeria for extended periods of time (e.g., three to six months). While I never found the idea of working in Nigeria particularly appealing, I was more than willing to accept this responsibility. After all, I witnessed this company transform each of my uncles into very affluent individuals, and based on previous internships that I had conducted in a satellite office of theirs in West Bloomfield, Michigan, I found the business very intriguing. Accordingly, all I had to do was acquire a degree in engineering, and I was "in."

With that backdrop in mind, I foolishly ignored all career fairs during my four years in college, and never applied for a single engineering position. In fact, I was so confident that I was going to work for my uncles, I never even created a resume. 

Needless to say, things didn’t turn out as expected. It’s not that my uncles did not want me working for them. On the contrary, my uncles sincerely wanted to bring me on board. Unfortunately, circumstances had dramatically changed. By the time I graduated college, the United States was so entangled in Iraq that the primary focus of my uncles’ business had shifted there. In other words, rather than having to spend prolonged periods of time in Nigeria, I would have to do so in Iraq. This was not exactly an exciting prospect.   

Don’t get me wrong, at one point in my life I would have loved for nothing more than to have the opportunity to live and work in Iraq, as Iraq is the native land of my family and relatives. Yet with the numerous attacks and casualties being constantly reported, I simply did not have it in me to take on a position in such an unstable environment. While I clearly believed that I was making the correct decision, it had never occurred to me that I literally had no alternatives. So after four years of college, essentially the only valuable lesson that I learned was to "always expect the unexpected." 

Pretty pathetic, I know.

Tomorrow: Now what?

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