Photo by Duane Tinkey
Photo by Duane Tinkey

Chris Proskey is a Long Island native who was drawn to Iowa State University’s College of Engineering. Not content to rest on that educational achievement, he later earned an M.B.A. at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and his law degree at Drake University, where he was a Dwight D. Opperman Scholar, which is granted to five first-year law students and provides full tuition and a stipend for living expenses and books. He was invited to be a clerk at the Zarley Law Firm P.L.C., which specializes in intellectual property law, in 2006. He was recently named a partner.

You have a lot interests.

I worked with design and manufacturing at Seagate (Technology LLC in Minneapolis). I was by training an industrial/mechanical engineer, but I learned to swim in the semiconductor, hard drive industry. I’ve always been a very interested person. I love business, I love law, I love engineering. I have a portion of me that is very mechanical … I have a portion of me that is very analytical. I remember when I was an engineer and I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life when I grew up, I couldn’t decide between going to get my M.B.A. or my law degree, and one of my professors said, “Why choose?” Seagate was paying for my M.B.A., and getting my law school paid for by Mr. Opperman somehow made all of that come together.

Does it take a lot to keep you occupied?

I’m always busy. On vacation, I’m up at 5 in the morning. Vacations tend to be almost as much or more work than my work.

What is a typical vacation?

I love the ocean, having grown up just a couple blocks from the ocean, I really miss it. My typical vacation is somewhere in the Caribbean or Florida fishing or diving.

What does it mean to be partner?

You can’t shirk the responsibility of being partner. I’ve always looked forward to ever increasing responsibility. This law firm is very unique in that all we do is intellectual property. It’s a very specialized area of the law. You have to pass your own bar just to be a patent attorney. It’s wildly difficult. I think in the history of our country there have only been 75,000 patent lawyers.

What is unique about the practice?

ntellectual property has two sides. One side is getting the patent, getting the trademark, getting the copyright. The other side is litigation, where you’re defending or enforcing the intellectual property. In a lot of law firms you’re put in one category. I’ve been very blessed here with a diverse practice, and I split my time between the two. I’ve sat there in the courtroom and watched the jury and the judge consider the claims of the patent and after you go through that you’ll never draft a patent in the same way. When you’re testing a trademark in litigation, it’s such a behind-the-scenes look at the law and the reasons behind it that it provides me with better perspective when we’re counseling clients on when we’re selecting trademarks or proceeding through the potential of enforcing a trademark.

You must be surrounded by innovation.

Every day our clients are coming in here and asking us to help them do something that’s never been done before.

What gets you up in the morning?

The constant crush of deadlines. I live in fear of them and I am excited by them. ... The great part about this job is that you put everything you have into making the most articulate argument, then you submit it to this black box that is the court. I love the tension, I love the strategy; it just fascinates me.

Are you an innovator?

I am. I am very interested in working with small businesses, and I have a couple of patent applications to my name; it’s kind of confidential stuff. I have a lot of skills and abilities that I can contribute. I’m not a guy who just sits on the sidelines. I would rather work until 3 in the morning and get up at 6. That’s what we get to do here, we get to create something. It’s not building something with two by fours and nails, it’s truly bringing something out of nothing and I would contribute all of my energy and effort to helping that process. I have been involved in a number of things like that. None of them have been successful yet, but we all can hope.