On this week’s episode of Lawline's Lawyers Who Lead podcast, Sigalle interviews Yuri Eliezer, Head of the IP Practice Group at Founders Legal and startup advisor to Atlantic tech Village. Yuri shares his journey to becoming a patent lawyer, his passion for helping IP clients of all sizes and stages of development, and why seeing the big picture drives his representation and leadership. Listen to the full interview or read highlights of the interview below! Transcribed answers were edited for readability.
Kayaking with His Son and Enjoying Nature with Family and Friends
My favorite moment actually occurred over the past few days. I had some family in town. We went kayaking yesterday with my son and it was a good time. We managed to see some beautiful nature, peace, tranquility, and to be together with family and close friends. So very grateful for that moment.
We kayaked along the Chattahoochee River and there's a dam that helps generate electricity for our community. It's nice and peaceful and we were battling upstream in the kayak, which gave it a little bit of good exercise.
On the Catalyst to Becoming a Lawyer
Albert Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions
Actually it was Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein. And it was just a compilation of different letters he's written and the snippet in the bio section mentioned that he was a patent clerk at the Swiss patent office. I think it was actually when he developed some of his interesting theories. So I thought, let me give that a shot. So I did, I was very grateful that I read that book at that time. And that's some of the career advice I give younger people is to follow your role model's path. Because if they're really a role model, then why reinvent the wheel? So go forward the way they did.
On His Path to Becoming a Patent Lawyer
B.A. in Electrical Engineering, Patent Administrator, then Law School at Night
Well, I can't imagine always having wanted to be a lawyer, but in most of my teenage adult years, I think that it was always the main focus for me and so I decided to try that career out. And honestly, it was the only professional job I've had since high school. I started interning in high school.
I worked my way through Georgia Tech, earning a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.
So to practice patent law, you're required to take a bar exam administered by the United States Patent Trademark Office (USPTO). And you can sit through that bar exam upon the successful completion of a technical degree, which my engineering degree qualified for. And then you're registered to represent inventors and applicants before the USPTO, much like a patent lawyer would. So patent lawyers and patent agents often have a lot of overlap. And being a patent attorney, you have more of a judicial perspective on how patents are litigated, how patents are enforced, and what arguments might work, what arguments might not work cause you're trained in reading legal opinions. Honestly, outside of that, patent agent was a lot of competencies handling patent prosecution. Which is representing applicants before the United States Patent Trademark Office, the USPTO.
So I worked full time, went to night school to study law. Writing patents, practicing as a registered patent agent and before then a technical advisor, and finally a patent lawyer. So it's been a pretty focused career track for me. And so I've been able to gain a lot of years of experience, even as a young professional, attract the right talent and the right clients to continue advancing my career as an attorney. So I've been very fortunate.
Innovation, discovery, advancement of technology, it all really appealed to me. And I don't think I was ever really good enough at actually coming up with the innovation. But working alongside those who did I found to be compelling as a career choice. So I took that route.
On Working Full-Time While Attending Law School at Night
Common for Patent Administrators Wanting to Become Patent Attorneys
It's not uncommon actually for patent attorneys because oftentimes they come from technical backgrounds where they've already had a profession and a career. Like the evening program at Georgia State University, it's one of the higher rated programs in the United States, a very popular and fast growing school. I liked it because you are shoulder to shoulder with other individuals who are mid-career, whereas the full-time law students, oftentimes they haven't had a chance to yet develop and grow their career. They're going straight from undergraduate studies to law school full time. So you get a very interesting diversity of classmates in the part-time program at night. We called ourselves the night walkers because during the day we had, you know, a full-time job and we take a little break, maybe go to the gym. Get some food and then you're in class till nine, 10 o'clock in the evening.
And it takes a little bit longer too, you know, taking summer classes, it takes a full year longer to get done, but then when you're out, of course you're like, Wow, I've got all this free time. And you've got a job lined up because you've already been working. You're a much more hire-able candidate at that point.
On Why He Moved Working for a Firm to Starting a Firm
The Leahy–Smith America Invents Act
The America Invents Act changed our patent system in a fundamental way. We were one of the few countries in the world that maintained the first to invent patent standard, which means the applicant must prove that they were the first to invent their innovation. And if the patent examiner found evidence that their invention, let's say six months before they filed for patent on it, someone already published a similar invention. The applicant was permitted to submit evidence with a date, signature, an affidavit to show that in fact, their conception predated the earlier publication that the patent examiner might have found and that they worked, with a good amount of diligence, to reduce their conception to practice. And if they can prove that they could back date prior art, the examiner cites during patent prosecution. Well, that is known as the first to invent standard.
The international standard across most of the countries in world was first to file. Oh, we're not gonna trust any extrinsic evidence submitted during the patent prosecution process. Let's just treat the filing date as the priority right for the applicant without relying on any uh, affidavits. And that created a race to the patent office that earlier stage companies were, I would say, a little more at the disadvantage against bigger companies or perhaps not as equipped to prepare to file patents so early on.
And so that created a demand. All those emerging technology companies who now needed to file a patent sooner than ever before and so that's when I started planning, cause I was at a very big and prestigious firm that served, you know, the top 1% of patent filers. And what I mean by the top 1% of filers probably file 33% of all the patents, right? If not more.
So I decided to begin to pivot into that technology entrepreneur client. They were the ones who needed the most help. They're the ones who were, I would say, substantially disadvantaged by the new laws. So they needed representation and for them to work with a big firm that represents the bigger clients, there would be a conflict of interest issue that a big firm might not wanna take a small client doing that nice advanced technology because they might have a big client come with the same technology and they can't represent both. So that, and a few other reasons, made it more difficult to represent earlier stage companies in a firm that represents large multinational patent filers.
Although a lot of our clients have matured and become multinational corporations themselves over the past decade, I'd say there are still a strong need for smaller entities to be able to adequately procure and enforce their patent rights in the current patent system. And believe me, it's something that the entire community of patent professionals is fighting to make sure that the courts come out with the right rulings. To make sure that Congress passes the right legislation. To make sure that the delicate balance of leveling the playing field, which is in part what the patent system is designed to do, remains true to its purpose.
On Being Invited to Speak at the USPTO
Provide Technical Training and Industry Insights at the Patent Examiner Technical Training Program.
Through the work we do for our clients, we were invited to discuss scenarios in which earlier stage companies might find it difficult to enforce patent rights. And so it was very important for patent examiners to hear the consequences of their examination process. One problem with the patent system is a human problem. Even the best, most competent examiners, they miss certain prior art disclosures that would have perhaps invalidated the patents that they would otherwise grant.
In other words, sometimes patent applicants are awarded patents even though they're not the first to come up with the invention. And that reduces patent quality. Again, it's not a competency issue, it's just a human issue. Imagine all the world of prior art. I say often, in articles in Korea, written Korean that discloses some aspect of the invention that a patent applicant submitted to the USPTO is still a relevant prior art. How can we expect our patent examiners to find that?
But you better believe that during patent enforcement, if you're going up against a player who really intends to, let's say, keep their technology and keep infringing on your patent rights, they're gonna go ahead and find everything they can and submit it for reexamination for review of your patent. Which adds to the cost and oftentimes patent applicants, they find themselves, My goodness, now I have to pay to reexamine my patent and I hope that I get a favorable ruling. So I was grateful for the opportunity to share with the patent examiners those downstream consequences of the work they do on earlier stage applicants.
On Co-Founding His Firm, Founders Legal
“We Were Lawyers That Were Founders”
I am a co-founder of Founders Legal. Me and my co-founders met at the Atlanta Tech Village working on our legal tech startup company, which we all left the big firm and decided try some legal technology that we can put in the consumer's hands to provide a greater, more efficient access to justice, to help people secure their legal rights in the best way technology can allow for efficiencies and quality purposes.
So we were working on technology. We didn't want to actually go back to practicing law, but we found that during the process of being submersed in the Atlanta Tech community, people would come in with these sorts of patents and trademarks. And one of my co-founders, Jeffrey Bekiares, they were going to him for corporate work and securities work and fundraising work and said, Look, this is still what's paying the bills. Our legal tech companies, they're not really making much money. Why don't we merge and actually formalize the legal work we've been doing on the side anyway? And that's how Founders Legal came to be and we decided to name it Founders because we were founders ourselves.
We were lawyers that were founders, and we stayed true to that and a lot of the attorneys that had joined had a different professional career before becoming lawyers. They had entrepreneurial type backgrounds. And so the brand we'd established is that we're founders, we’re practical. We've done it all, and in our firm we've got corporate, securities, M&A, international and domestic intellectual property from trademarks to patents. And so we provide a well-rounded list of offerings that bring value to other executives and founders of technology companies.
On His Work With Atlantic Tech Village
Put Firm Business Aside and Focus on Helping the Entrepreneur Community
As a result of us being tech entrepreneurs, we became the first and only law firm permitted in incubators up and down the east coast. While big name firm brands sponsor these accelerators and incubators financially, we actually worked with their companies because we were one of them. And that really helped us get the traction to establish our firm at a foundational level. Because we were tech entrepreneurs, we were able to access these other tech entrepreneurs and provide them legal services. We trusted each other. We had mutual respect for each other.
You've got to put the business aside and you have to focus on helping your community. Ultimately, it's the greatest use of nonproductive, non-billable time to use your strengths as a lawyer, serve your target audience in a way that others can only do in a business setting. So that's number one.
Number two is being an entrepreneur, you don't just focus on their specific areas. I'm talking to a CEO. Now they've got employees, they've got sales, they've got contractors, they've got partnership agreements and all of those are gonna want a piece of the IP. Let me advise this entrepreneur of what they should expect, not just about patents, but about everything around the process and make sure that the few dollars they have to spend don't go towards IP if they don't absolutely have a strong reason to do so. So you're able to take it down to that level, I would say.
And that's something that all of our attorneys at Founders Legal strive to be: truly trusted advisors. Not just within a scope of our specific competency or niche competency you may say. But also, uh, just a well rounded perspective that uh, we'd like to hear about their challenges because we have a team that is greater than the sum of its parts, and that's what trusted advisors provide, not just a specific competency, but a much greater access to more knowledge and experience.
Business Development Through Genuine Passion on Subject Matter
If you're going to a networking event, you better be going because you're genuinely passionate about the subject matter. Like you see yourself as a peer, a genuine academic, or any kind of hobby, curiosity. You're going because it's something that truly, generally interests you. If you wouldn't make a dollar of business outta this event, go there because you want to learn and you wanna be surrounded by the people you like to be around.
So I tried to remain focused on business development through that lens and network filled in through that lens. That really helps to build the trusted advisor relationship.
Know your audience. Every circle is gonna have a different approach. For me, I ask myself, Could I invite this person over to my house for drinks, have a good time, and develop a friendship.
On the Importance of Helping Your Community
Battle Loneliness Through Inclusivity
I guess I could take it a little bit philosophical route. One thing I hear about, uh, folks in the older community when they've already perhaps outlived their spouse and you have grandchildren, great grandchildren, is that being alone is very difficult. Being on your own, not having someone to share experiences with is, from what I've heard, one of the most difficult things to endure. Loneliness. And being part of a community. Is truly a blessing. It's a gift. And being integrated in a community adds to the beautiful colors of lives and gives to your community to add to the color that others experience in their life as well. And overall, it's a beautiful way of living.
On What Leadership in Law Means
Continue Education, Work With a Value Driven Team, Bring Access and Value to Clients
First is to always continue your education. Contribute your perspective as a thought leader if you can, or at least read the perspective of other thought leaders. Stay at the advanced cutting edge of your industry. I guess the first prong of leadership.
The second would be to work with the team with a very good set of core values and principles that you align with that fits with your culture, because you can't go as far on your own as you can with a great team of people.
The third is to provide the best and the greatest access to legal justice that you can, to your community, to your jurisdiction, where you're licensed. What you're doing should bringing value to your clients, and you should be the leader at bringing value to your clients, and you should strive to scale that, to amplify that. If you're doing good, if you find some good value, increase the scalability of that value proposition so you can provide the greatest access to justice as possible.
On One Thing He Would Change about the Legal Industry
Enforcement of IP rights Should Be More Accessible to Everybody
I'd like for the enforcement of intellectual property rights to be accessible to everybody who has intellectual property rights. Right now in our country, you can get intellectual property rights, but you have to achieve certain economies of scale for enforceability to make sense.
On one hand, I think that's a good thing. I think that limited monopolies, which is what intellectual property rights provide, could be very detrimental to society as a whole if there's not a perfect balance. And what we're letting balance the system today is who's got the most money. If you've got the most money, that must mean you're the most successful. And the system is you can play that game very well. You might have, however, the greatest innovation, the greatest technology, but you'll have to attract money before you could make use of the IP system today. You won't be able to do it on a $0 budget.
And you have industries who team up from other countries, say Japan, to help each other enforce their patent rights internationally to keep the costs manageable. So let's take care of our patent, trademark and copyright owners. It's not enough perhaps just to say, Great, you have a right, you've earned it. But level the playing field in a way that money is not the biggest factor of determined success. It's not a bad factor, but maybe we should consider other factors as well.
On a Piece of Practical Advice for our Leaders in Law
Do Not Get Lost in Business of Law
Do not get lost in the business of law. Let others worry about that. It can be easy to think about growing your legal practice and looking at the bottom line numbers and seeing the dollars involved. That'll happen organically if you pursue continued progress as a legal professional. So don't neglect the time to do the work. And I see a lot of young lawyers coming up and they're just ready to build their book of business but there's no way around getting experience to see as much as you can. It's very hard to skip that process. And your experience is what determines a major aspect of the quality of the advice you serve your clients with.
Something I ask all of my colleagues as well. What is the most intricate service you could provide as a lawyer for your client? And that should be changing every year to two years, to three years. You should keep advancing, adding, refining. If you're focused on getting as many trademark filings done as an attorney and not focused on, let's say, going through as many appeals or re-exam, or even taking a case up the circuit, trying to find that legal work that is very specialized and keep advancing that process. I think that you'll plateau really fast. So keep advancing the sophistication you're capable of serving yourself to your client.
I try to listen to what my wife tells me to do. She says I tend to torture myself staying up late at night. So what I'd like to improve on my self-care is a sleep regimen with the discipline that my wife has.
Lawyers Who Lead is a weekly podcast that celebrates lawyers who are making powerful changes through extraordinary leadership. Each week, Lawline’s Chief Storyteller, Sigalle Barness, interviews a lawyer who is driving meaningful change in the legal industry. Guests represent a diverse and exciting range of experiences but with one common thread, the pursuit of bettering the legal profession.
Each episode explores the guest’s journey to leadership, the underlying principles that helped them make an impact, and devises ways listeners can apply these concepts in their own lives.