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James Pooley ’70 thinks his former science and math instructors at Lafayette would be quite amused if they could see him now. Thirty years ago, as a student majoring in liberal arts-driven international affairs, he avoided mathematics courses at all costs. In fact, he fulfilled his sole math requirement with the Logic course offered by the philosophy department.

Today, Pooley is a partner in the law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP, based in Palo Alto, Calif., where he makes a living as an intellectual property lawyer. He tries patent, trade secret, and copyright cases of the electronic and technology firms populating Silicon Valley.

“I’ve gotten a very deep education in electronics, computer science, and a bit of biotechnology as well,” says Pooley, who recently was selected by the Los Angeles Daily Record as one of California’s top 30 intellectual property lawyers. “But it’s been a lot of fun, and I consider among my personal friends the inventor of the microprocessor and other very well-known and exceedingly accomplished scientists and inventors who’ve helped build the technology base we enjoy in this country that did not exist 30 years ago. And I count it as a singular stroke of luck that I ended up where I did.”

A McKelvy Scholar at Lafayette, Pooley thought of going into law, political science, and even the foreign service. Even following graduation from law school at Columbia University, he was unsure about the type of law he wanted to practice. But he knew he wanted to try cases and, almost by happenstance, he landed in Palo Alto in Silicon Valley just as the high-tech revolution was taking off.

“The cases that were available to try had largely to do with technology and trade secrets,” he remembers. “Silicon Valley was built by people leaving one company to start another, and they got sued for the ideas they took with them. From there, I moved into intellectual property.”

But Pooley’s work in protecting “property of the mind” doesn’t end with his work as a trial lawyer. He was appointed as the only outside lawyer to the Intellectual Property Study Group for the California Council of Science and Technology.

“That appointment came as a result of the work I did for four years on a committee for the National Academy of Science (NAS) that was looking at intellectual property rights in the information-based economy.” says Pooley. “That committee issued a report in 2004 about the reform of the patent system, which has led to some legislation that is pending in Congress.”

Pooley says one of the main reasons he was invited to join the NAS committee is because one of the senior staff members at the academy was Chuck Wessner ’69, a Zeta Psi fraternity brother.

Pooley is grateful to the Lafayette professors who encouraged him to think critically and not lose sight of how impacting government organizations can affect society as a whole.

“Today, I enjoy contributing my time and efforts on behalf of public policy initiatives and programs, and I think that stems from my early experiences [at Lafayette],” he says.

Similarly, the diverse students he lived with at McKelvy stimulated his intellectual curiosity.

“I had to be intellectually open to life,” he explains, “which was something I hadn’t specifically prepared for. Because I had never taken courses on patents or intellectual property, the idea of embracing intellectual challenges and opportunities was something totally new to me when I came here. But, in fact, many of those ideas were rooted in my experience at McKelvy, which underscored the value and fun of having intellectual pursuits. There were people there who were engineers, scientists, political scientists, and we all came together to talk and to share with one another perspectives of every sort of level of life as a student.

“To the extent that today I am able to spend days on end with inventors and with scientists is in large part because I learned to love breaking out of my own intellectual cocoon at Lafayette.”

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles