Katherine Kim, J.D.


Katherine Kim

Patent Attorney, Spark IP Law


B.A., Political Science, Chemistry, Loyola University of Chicago, IL

M.S., Chemistry, DePaul University, Chicago, IL

J.D., DePaul University College of Law, Chicago, IL

Katherine Kim landed her first job after graduate school when a temp agency in Irvine, CA, matched her with a biotech start-up company that needed a polymer chemist. After working at that company for a while, Kim assessed her future as a person with an M.S. degree working in the pharmaceutical industry. She realized that she would need a Ph.D. if she wanted to go into research. Instead, she opted to go to law school.

After she earned her law degree, she did litigation work with a law firm. The long hours and high stress were not what she had in mind, so she left the law firm and got a real estate license. At that point, she was ready to go with either law or real estate, "whatever took off first."

Five years ago, patent attorney Katherine Kim founded Spark IP Law, the intellectual property (IP) firm that she runs today. "I kind of fell into it," she explains, recalling how a colleague sent her the lead for her first client after she had quit her job at a law firm.  She discovered that she really liked helping people develop their IP portfolios, one of the essential steps in getting a new idea ready to present to potential investors.

The startup phase of her business was a struggle: she had to teach classes to bring in extra income. "So many times I thought I would have to go back to working at a law firm," she recalls. Now, though, her practice brings in enough business to keep her busy, along with an associate and a law clerk, and she doesn't have to teach classes any more.

Kim spends much of her time networking to develop her business. "I mention my business every chance I get." Whenever she travels, she tries to arrange meetings with clients and colleagues in the town she's visiting. She has more than 1000 LinkedIn contacts. "I keep in touch with everyone. Professors from my student days, former classmates, friends, everyone!" Her clients have international patent portfolios, so she also keeps in touch with IP lawyers in offices overseas and in Canada.

Kim is registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as a Patent Attorney. Obtaining this license required her to take a registration exam, in addition to passing her bar exam. She notes, "You can be registered as a Patent Agent if you don't have law degree, but you have a technical background and you pass the licensing exam." 

I constantly meet people with different ideas and new business ventures. Some people are incredibly creative and inspiring, and it's wonderful to cross paths with them.

Typical day on the job:

I no longer work in a lab—I am a full-time patent attorney. A majority of my week is spent developing and running my business and following up with clients. About 35% of my week is devoted to developing patent and trademark portfolios. I spend about 20% of my time on the phone.

Our office is more or less virtual. My associate, my law clerk, and I have software that allows us to work from a cloud. I do most of my work from home off my desktop. Whether I'm at my desk or on the go, I am always responding to emails and taking calls.

I used to have a "real" office, but no one was coming there, so now I have a virtual office and I can stay in touch with my law clerks and my clients from wherever I am.

In a typical month, I spend 10 to 15 days away from my office on travel. Often, I'm visiting various areas of the country to expand my business. Even though I do most of my work online, clients appreciate face-to-face contact. I have started to volunteer on committees and panels, and I was recently a judge in an international high school science competition, the Intel ISEF. Everywhere I go, I talk about the start-up world.

Work schedule:

Every week varies depending on what is going on. I feel like I'm always working to some degree. I begin my day at 7:30 AM, and immediately jump onto my computer and phone for two hours. Then I take a break and work out. I have a quick lunch while I'm working at my computer again. I tend to take most calls in the morning or in the car, where I have Bluetooth accessibility so I can keep both hands on the wheel. In any given week, I have an assortment of social and business engagements — lunch, dinner, happy hour — I use every opportunity I can get to talk about what I do.

Tools you can’t live without:

I rely on my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone and my favorite apps: FitBit, Nike Training Club, Uber, Google Maps, Voice Recorder, and S Note. I keep in touch with my clients using Skype for video chats and Spotify (a music app that I can also use for conference calls using my Bluetooth speaker). I have a World Clock app that helps me keep track of what time zones my clients are in. I also have all my social media accounts and a couple of travel arrangement apps, including TripIt, on my smartphone. I use Clio for managing my law practice, and they just came out with an app for Android phones. In my office, I have a wireless printer, and I use Outlook email on my desktop computer. I still use a Blackberry for mobile email, because it works better than the Samsung email app for me. Technology has made it a lot easier to run my business on the go. The one thing I don't have is a TV!

What you like most about your job:

I constantly meet people with different ideas and new business ventures. Some people are incredibly creative and inspiring, and it's wonderful to cross paths with them. Most of my clients are startups. Everyone has ideas, and they are constantly looking for ways to solve problems.

Recently, I was a volunteer judge for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). I met the most amazing high school students. They were so passionate about their work and about solving problems. The other judges were very educated, accomplished professionals, and it was great networking with them.

I really like this work. I'm serving on committees and panels to let young lawyers know what it's like to start your own practice. You have to like meeting new people, and constantly be looking for new opportunities. You have to keep in touch with everybody. This is what it takes to succeed.

Best productivity trick:

I don't keep myself signed into to social media accounts. I found the notifications on my phone were too distracting. Also, I try to break up my day so I'm at 100% every time I sit down to work at my computer as opposed to sitting for 6 hours straight. I always walk around while I take calls.

Best career advice you’ve received:

You can't be liked by everyone. I meet so many people all the time. If I took things personally or expected the same from everyone, I would lose too much time and energy.

Career advice you'd give:

You never know when you will meet someone who can help you out, or you can help them. I was having breakfast in San Diego, and the man seated next to me at the hotel bar was chatting with the bartender. He mentioned he was from Chicago, and we started talking. I had been looking for someone to help me out with some software apps, and he had the expertise I needed. It turned out that he was looking for a patent attorney, so I was able to help him out as well!

You have to look around to find work that you love. When I was teaching, all the undergrads wanted to go into medical school or academia. They didn't know about all the other options available to them. I told my students about the various professional associations and the resources available for career planning.

Skills or talents that make you a good fit for your job:

I know what my weaknesses are and I am not afraid to ask for help. You can't be good at everything, and you shouldn't try. I find that collaborating or receiving guidance from someone who complements my strengths contributes directly to success.

It really helps if you can partner up with someone who has a lot of experience in the business world. They can help you write up a business plan and connect with funding sources. You need to be able to talk with business people and present your technical ideas in a way that captures their interest.

Essential habit you wish you’d started earlier:

I break up my day. I used to sit in front of my computer for endless hours and I would burn myself out.

Favorite ACS resource:

The publications help me keep up with industry news. C&EN and the ACS website. I'm just getting started in the CHAL (Chemistry and the Law) Division.

How you've benefited from being an ACS member:

I've met a number of interesting people at the local and regional ACS meetings and events.