Biochemistry alumnus combines interest in science, humanities in career as patent agent

Dan Blasiole’s career is a synthesis of his two intellectual passions: the sciences and the humanities. After honing his science knowledge with a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the lab of professor Alan Attie, he found the perfect combination of these two interests as a patent agent.

Originally from Pennsylvania, he attended Franklin and Marshall College intending to get a degree in a science field. Instead, he left with a degree in philosophy and headed to the University of California, San Diego for a master’s degree in the philosophy of science. After spending several years researching molecular epidemiology in a Department of Defense lab in California he moved to Madison for his Ph.D. in biochemistry with Attie, which he finished in 2008, and discovered the patent field. Today he works at DeWitt LLP, a law firm in Madison, Wis.

Photo of Daniel Blasiole. Blasiole is sitting in a large-windowed office. He's wearing a black suit and pink shirt, and he's signing a document.
Biochemistry Ph.D. alumnus Daniel Blasiole in his office at DeWitt LLP, a law firm located right on the Capitol Square in Madison, Wis. Photo: Robin Davies.

“I enjoyed doing science in the lab, but I loved learning and studying the theoretical aspects of science even more,” Blasiole explains. “I felt either too narrowly focused (in the lab) or too distanced from the scientific forefront (in the philosophy of science), neither of which was the right fit for me. I had a skill set in critical analysis and argumentative writing that I had developed studying philosophy, and I wanted to leverage this along with my passion for science in my future career.”

Through networking with professionals at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), he learned of the patent field and got interested. As a patent agent he specializes broadly in biotechnology. Patent agents are the negotiating liaisons between inventors and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Blasiole often works with WARF in his role.

UW–Madison researchers who want to patent an invention, some even from the Department of Biochemistry, first approach WARF. WARF then connects with patent attorneys and agents like Blasiole, who talk with WARF and the inventor to learn about the invention and understand the science behind it. Blasiole then drafts all the materials for a patent application, sends it to the USPTO, and negotiates back and forth with the USPTO to get it approved as a patent.

The negotiation starts by presenting claims that define an invention based on the subject matter disclosed in the patent application. A patent examiner then considers the claims for novelty, non-obviousness, and other patentability criteria. If the examiner objects to the claims, the claims can be defended with argument, supported with additional data, or narrowed in scope.

“The negotiation with the USPTO is an extremely challenging but stimulating process that requires a mix of scientific and legal reasoning,” he says. “In some ways, it’s a lot like getting a paper published, except that in the patent game you are focused on claims rather than scientific conclusions from data.”

The patent process is very important, says Blasiole, because if investors are going to invest millions of dollars into something, they want to make sure that the intellectual property is protected.

He adds how the breadth of the UW–Madison Department of Biochemistry in general, and Attie’s lab in particular, prepared him for the career.

“What I appreciate about my graduate education is how much I learned not only about biochemistry and molecular biology but also the biosciences across the board,” he says. “As a patent agent you never know what is going to come your way, and you’ve got to be able to master it and talk about it cogently with the experts in the area. My graduate education at UW prepared me to do this effectively and efficiently.”

As a graduate student, Blasiole researched the proteins involved in secreting lipids from the liver, which affects people with high cholesterol. He was part of work that investigated a newly characterized enzyme that contributes to a genetic disorder that causes high cholesterol. The protein they looked at is now involved in therapeutics.

Blasiole is particularly appreciative of the mentorship provided by Alan Attie in preparing him for his career.

“Alan has such a deep curiosity and determination to pursue what interests him and will explore new techniques and research areas if his questions take him there,” Blasiole says. “He taught me to follow my curiosity, take intellectual risks, and pursue my goals with passion and rigor. I have followed Alan’s example as much as possible through the years, and it has served me well.”

Blasiole said it can be difficult to get experience in the patent field, but networking and talking to professionals in the field is the best way to get started.

“There are few formal routes for entering the career,” says Blasiole, “so an entrepreneurial spirit is critical for getting your foot in the door and keeping it open.”