This is the second profile in a three-part series, exploring how students with degrees in pharmacology and cell biophysics from UC have contributed to the field and succeeded locally but have also used their expertise in very different ways.
Scientists around the globe can thank Nicole Tepe for helping them own the rights to their latest discoveries and novel technologies.
Tepe, a 2000 graduate of UC's pharmacology and cell biophysics program who is now a patent attorney for Procter & Gamble (P&G), uses her advanced degree every day to aid in protecting new technologies throughout the world.
"If you can think scientifically and learn the law, you have a very unique skill set for employers," she says.
In her job as a patent counselor, Tepe assesses new discoveries with inventors, determining whether a patentable invention exists, and drafts new applications that describe their findings. These applications are filed in the U.S. via the U.S. Patent Office and, in most cases, globally.
Upon filing, new applications can take several years before even being picked up by a patent examiner, but once the examination process-known as prosecution-begins, it may take several more years before claims to the patent are granted and a patent is issued.
The grant of patent rights gives the patent owner the right to exclude others from practicing the claimed technology.
"There are very strict rules on how the applications are drafted," Tepe adds.
In addition to advising clients as to whether patent protection should be sought via filing of patent applications, Tepe also advises on issues of freedom to practice. For example, if a competitor has a valid patent, part of the job as a patent attorney is to advise on whether the practice of a certain technology might infringe on the rights of another party.
"As a person with an advanced scientific background, I am able to evaluate technologies and spot gaps in scientific logic more readily than someone who has not had the benefit of a rigorous program like that of UC's pharmacology program," she says. "There are a lot of gray areas in law; my unique training helps me to evaluate legal issues strategically."
Tepe was first introduced to pharmacology during her undergraduate studies in biology at Thomas More College.
"I took a pharmacology class and found it fascinating," she says. "Finding new medicines and discovering how they work inside the body is such an integral part of medicine."
Tepe worked as a research associate for Procter & Gamble following graduation from Thomas More in 1994 and decided to pursue her graduate degree in molecular, cellular and biochemical pharmacology at UC.
From there, Tepe started a family with her husband, Matt Wortman, PhD, a biomedical scientist at UC.
"I had my first child after graduating with my pharmacology degree," she says, noting that she still worked as a consultant at UC's Intellectual Property Office during that time, doing some agreement work for the university. "In this job, I encountered some patent work-very limited, but enough to consider the field as an option."
With her interest piqued, Tepe took the LSAT-the entrance exam necessary to apply to law school-on the chance that a law degree was something she wanted to pursue.
"I was offered a scholarship that was available to Thomas More alumni interested in obtaining a law degree," she says. "It was the perfect opportunity."
Tepe was accepted to the UC College of Law in 2001 and graduated four years later, taking time off to have her second child.
After graduation, she interned at Frost Brown Todd LLC, a Cincinnati general practice law firm with a strong patent department.
"I did some patent prosecution work in addition to legal research and litigation support," she says.
In 2005, she began working for the firm full-time-a job that she truly loved.
But new and different opportunities came along, and she knew she needed to make her move.
"There was an opportunity at P&G, and I knew I needed to throw my hat in the ring," she says. "My combined degrees gave me incredible opportunities."
She adds that there is a demand for patent attorneys with advanced degrees in science.
"When you are working at a law firm, you get a lot of different types of inventions for different areas of science-new molecules used in curing specific types of cancer or methods that use polymorphisms, or mutations in specific genes, that can be used as markers to identify and predict diseases," she says. "This is where my pharmacology degree comes in handy. Anyone with an advanced degree in biomedicine is highly desired. There are all sorts of opportunities in Cincinnati and beyond."
Tepe has been a patent attorney at P&G since February 2008. In this role, she enjoys using not only her law knowledge but also her scientific expertise to get new technologies patented so that they can be used for improving the lives of consumers around the globe.
"UC gave me the foundation to get me to where I am today."