Protecting the Entrepreneurs

Peter Detkin has one piece of advice for Penn Engineering students: "Don't think you're going to work for one or two employers for the rest of your life. If you want a good job, you have to invent it." This is how people think in Silicon Valley, he adds, and it remains the hub of ground-breaking innovation.

Detkin knows what he is talking about; he has spent most of his career working with visionaries and pioneering inventors, helping them realize and then protect their ideas either in startups or established businesses. What has to be protected, he explains, is how something works, rather than how it is made: the idea, rather than the execution; the recipe, not the actual cooking.

For eight years Detkin worked at Intel, a Silicon Valley mainstay, as vice president and assistant general counsel, responsible for the patent and licensing departments and managing the litigation and competition policy. Detkin loved working at Intel and is proud to own an autographed copy of Moore's law, created by Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore. Moore's law is a prediction that the number of transistors on a chip will double about every two years, and it "drives Silicon Valley," Detkin says.

Detkin relocated to Silicon Valley only two years into his career, eager to play a meaningful part in the hotbed of invention. Before Intel, he was an intellectual property partner at Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati in Palo Alto, where he was the first patent lawyer and the basis of the firm's highly successful intellectual property practice. While working with a software copyright issue, he litigated a case that made its way up to the Supreme Court.

At the forefront of intellectual property law, Detkin has seen the tectonic shift in how patent law is practiced, from a cottage industry of boutique firms to its integration into the companies that are creating the new technologies. "A good executive in Silicon Valley has to understand intellectual property," he says.

In 2002 Detkin helped found Intellectual Ventures, in Bellevue, Washington. The company's mission is to energize and streamline an invention economy that will drive innovation around the world. As vice-chairman, he focuses on intellectual property and invention, and is proud to be affiliated with projects that range from a new type of antenna to nuclear power.

Detkin's comfort with the entrepreneurial spirit may be genetic, although he has taken it in a different direction than his father, who worked in importing and exporting costume jewelry. "My father introduced ‘puka' beads to the United States," he says, referring to shell-like beads popular in the 1970s. "And ‘mood rings' paid for my education at Penn."

 Graduating with a degree in Electrical Engineering and Systems in 1982, Detkin has fond memories of studying antenna design at Penn Engineering with Dr. Dwight D. Jaggard. After deciding that law was a better fit than an engineering career, Detkin focused on patent law thanks to a summer job after his first year of law school at a firm where he worked with a patent law luminary.

Detkin recently endowed a laboratory at Penn Engineering. He jokes that it is an appropriate gift. While working in the electrical engineering laboratory as a freshman, he crossed two wires and received such a strong electrical shock that he kicked his legs forward while on his castor-rolling chair, causing him to propel himself backwards until he hit the rear wall behind him. Obviously, judging from his track record, Detkin survived intact.

View the full article in Penn Engineering magazine "Protecting the Entrepreneurs" by Janet Falon.

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