Alumni Spotlights

Jonathan B. Burns, J.D., '06

Associate Patent Counsel, Google, Inc.

Jonathan B. Burns, J.D., '06

I came into law school with a good background and some experience with patent law, but it took law school for me to appreciate the non-patent nuances to patent law--areas like property law, contracts, and administrative law. I picked up good study habits and attention to both detail and clarity in writing, something sorely lacking from my science training.

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Jonathan B. Burns,’06 is Associate Patent Counsel at Google, Inc.  A 2001 graduate of DePauw University, he worked in Intellectual Property law at Hunton & Williams LLP in Washington, D.C. and Baker & Daniels LLP in Indianapolis before making the move to in-house patent counsel at Google in 2012.  As part of a new career advice series from the Office of Professional Development, Burns recently gave a long-distance talk to current IU McKinney students via a Google Hangout from his office in Mountain View, CA (pictured). 

Recently, he spoke with us about his career and the law school.

IU McKinney: When did you decide to go to law school?  Why did you decide to attend our school?

Jonathan Burns: I visited my high school recently, and one of my teachers asked if I was a patent attorney, so at least since then!  I've taken a lot of twists and turns–I wanted to teach college chemistry at one point, and I took two years off between undergrad and law school to see if I could make it as a computer programmer (answer: probably, but writing was more fun than programming).  I also used that time to take the patent agent exam and worked for a year at an Indy law firm.  I started at IU-Indy so I could continue to work part-time.  

IU: Who was your favorite professor/class?

JB: Professor Crews, and his copyright class.  Very difficult subject matter taught by a dynamic and engaging teacher with a true passion for it–the perfect combination.   

IU: What were your favorite parts of law school (also, did you do any internships, clinics, student groups)?

JB: I was lucky enough to know exactly what I wanted to do with my J.D. before I stepped through the door, turning law school into a means to an end.  I worked part-time during my first year, and during my first and second summers.  I didn't have much time for student groups, but I was on the Indiana Law Review and volunteered with the IP student group.  

IU: How did you get a job at Google?  How did your career path lead to where you are now?

JB: I have no idea.  Absolutely none.  I graduated law school and immediately left for Washington, D.C. where I practiced at a very large firm for a few years.  I came back to Indianapolis to practice for a few more, but always wanted to try being an in-house attorney.  I made up my mind one day, and that kicked off a lot of advice-seeking conversations with my in-house friends.  One of them worked at Google, and said they were looking.  Now I have this really great job.  I wish I could offer a secret, but it's been a combination of very hard work and talented friends who are willing to help.  And just occasionally being brave enough to go down a path with an uncertain future.

IU: What does your job involve?  What parts of it do you like the best?  

JB: There are a lot of online videos of the [Google] campus; those will paint a better picture.  My office is dog friendly, so keeping them entertained takes up a substantial part of my day.  Did I mention the nap pod?  Joking aside, I am a patent attorney and help out with the patent issues that arise.  A lot of the people I work with daily are true luminaries in their engineering areas, and I'm fortunate to work with a great group of lawyers.  I am very lucky, and wake every day hoping that I'm smart enough to keep up.  I also manage outside counsel.  It's fun being the client!  It can also be incredibly infuriating, and something every lawyer needs to do at least once.    

IU: Are there things you learned in law school that help you with your current job?

JB: I came into law school with a good background and some experience with patent law, but it took law school for me to appreciate the non-patent nuances to patent law--areas like property law, contracts, and administrative law.  I picked up good study habits and attention to both detail and clarity in writing, something sorely lacking from my science training.  

I've also had to unlearn a lot of bad habits from law school.  I graduated, as I think many do, with the notion that every person on the planet was at least as legally sophisticated as I was, and that's simply not true. Your clients deserve and should expect that you'll explain every step in an understandable way. You are at least as much an advisor to your client as you are an advocate for them; when that balance is upset, very bad things start to happen.  But only one side of that balance is mandatory in law school.  The other side is buried deep in elective clinics, and not doing any clinic work or pro bono hours was one of my bigger mistakes.  

IU: Do you have any advice for current students who might want to follow a similar career path?

JB: Take different classes, even the hard ones or the ones you might not like.  A deep knowledge of your specialty is important, but you do your clients a disservice if you can't also spot the secondary issues, or the broader risks to your recommendations.  Networking is important, and start early; your classmates are likely to be the first ones to help you find a job or send you work as clients.  Find a mentor or ten, and ask as many questions as humanly possible.

Law school will try to strip your hobbies away.  Don't let it!  There's nothing less effective and more annoying than a one dimensional lawyer, and that comes from personal experience.  I may still be annoying, but at least I have hobbies.

Take every single opportunity to stand and talk in school.  Take moot court and do clinic work–anything that forces you to think on your feet.