The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Patenting the Technology Revolution

In 1987, after Randy Pritzker had earned his B.S. degree from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, he took a radical sidestep in his career by deciding to go to the Boston College Law School. That juke in his education proved to be a game breaker and led to his remarkable 21-year career as one of Massachusetts’ “Super Lawyers” at the Wolf Greenfield law firm, one of the world’s leading legal specialists in intellectual property, or IP.

One measure of Pritzker’s success is that he repeatedly appears on the annual listing of outstanding lawyers in Super Lawyers magazine, published in all 50 states and reaching more than 13 million readers. The magazine names Super Lawyers in each state who receive the highest point totals, as chosen by their peers and through independent research.

Pritzker certainly couldn’t have foreseen that kind of landmark in 1987. “It was a different world then,” he recalls about his thinking after graduating from UMass Amherst. “And frankly I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

Pritzker’s pilgrimage from “The Graduate” to “The Super Lawyer” combined the ingredients of any well-lived life: smart decisions, perseverance, a little luck, and a dash of coincidence.

Many factors went into that fateful decision to attend law school, which soon combined his expertise in engineering and law into a practice that covers the full spectrum of IP issues, including patent and trademark portfolio management, complex litigation, due diligence, licensing matters, patentability, infringement, and other opinion matters.

Pritzker had spent his senior year of 1986-87 in an exchange program at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, and that formative experience broadened his horizons. Then again, he considered his options without a graduate degree in engineering as limited. So he opted to go to law school, but was also determined to use his engineering background to best advantage. That opportunity presented itself in 1989, after his first year at B.C., when he needed a summer job.

“I didn’t think general practice law firms would be interested in hiring me for temporary work after only one year of law school,” he calculated with all the forethought of a design engineer. “But I felt intellectual property specialists would be attracted by my technology background.”

He calculated right, because Wolf Greenfield hired him for a summer job. “And I’ve been here ever since,” he says simply.

Pritzker is a prime example of Wolf Greenfield’s stated mandate that “We attract, train, and invest long-term in technical and legal specialists at the forefront of their fields.” This approach makes total sense for the 80-year-old practice. Among the company’s clients are Nobel Prize winners, Fortune 500 companies, high-tech startups, and major research universities, including UMass Amherst, looking to protect and enforce their IP rights.

Since Pritzker joined Wolf Greenfield in 1989, he has, in effect, patented much of the technology revolution. Among Pritzker’s many high-profile clients are major consumer products companies, electronics and software companies, defense contractors, investors, academic institutions, and start-up companies.

Besides helping to qualify him for his job at Wolf Greenfield, how has Pritzker’s degree from the ECE department helped him? “First of all, I got a tremendous education at the College of Engineering,” he says. “And that’s critical to my law practice. Our clients not only depend on us to be technologically savvy, but they expect and deserve it.”

Indeed, the whole IP world he works with depends on Pritzker having a thorough scientific and technological background so he can understand, interpret, and translate intellectual property into many of the patents that have created today’s society. It’s all part of the fruits of his labor.

“One of my biggest satisfactions,” he says, “is working on a very personal level with these very technologically sophisticated clients to plan some of their most important business goals, and then going out and making them happen.”

Another satisfaction has been presiding over much of the IP that has transformed the old world he knew in 1989 into the smart, user-friendly, “artificially intelligent” world of today.

But, with all the change, Pritzker still sees his UMass experience as an anchor for his career. “I’m looking at my old college textbooks right now,” he says. “The world has changed, but the fundamentals of that revolution are still all here in these books.”

One more tradition that he hopes doesn’t change is one he helped start at UMass. While Pritzker was living in the UMass Amherst residence halls in the mid-1980s, he and many other dorm students would march to Amherst College right after the first snowfall each year and pelt the dorms with snowballs as a good-natured show of school spirit.

“They would shout things like ‘safety net school!’ at us from their windows, all in good fun,” he recalls fondly. Considering his luminous career, Randy Pritzker is a living litigation against that tired old “safety net school” cliché.  He has proven that UMass is more like a “launching pad school.”