Alumna employs GSAS edication in the courtroom
When Laura Coruzzi, Ph.D., GSAS ’75 and ’79, argued her first case before the Patent Office Board of Appeals, the administrative law court within the United States Patent and Trademark Office, she began by giving the panel of judges a crash course on monoclonal antibodies, a basic understanding of which was central to her appeal.
“I gave them a handout and I was drawing pictures on a poster board,” said Coruzzi. “At the end of the argument, I asked if the judges had any questions.” Only the lead judge spoke up. “‘What did you do before you did this?’” she recalled him asking. “‘That was one of the clearest biological tutorials I’ve ever heard.’”
Breaking down complex scientific ideas for a general audience, she explained, was a requirement of her studies at Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, where she earned her master’s and doctoral degrees. She also earned her bachelor of science degree at Fordham in 1973.
“What I did at Fordham directly prepared me for arguing legal cases,” said Coruzzi, a partner at Jones Day, where she is chair of the firm’s life sciences practices. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this job without the science education I received at GSAS.”
Her career as a successful patent attorney almost never materialized, however. She was all set on pursuing a career in academia, most likely in molecular biology or histology, until two things happened: Federal funding for scientific research dried up during the Reagan administration, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that living things were patentable, a decision that fueled the growth of the biotech industry. Soon thereafter, Genentech, the leading biotechnology research and development firm, went public.
Her future, Corruzi figured, was in a courtroom, not the classroom or lab. “I wasn’t in it to be a bench scientist,” said Corruzi. “I thought the lawyers in this new space probably didn’t have science degrees. Being able to stand up and defend the work that I did as a scientist is the same skill that I’d need as a lawyer to argue a case.”
After earning her juris doctor degree from Fordham Law School in 1985, Coruzzi kick-started a successful career in intellectual property law at Pennie & Edmonds, where she was a one of the original members of the firm’s biotechnology group founded by S. Leslie Misrock, LAW ’59, widely considered the father of biotechnology patent law. The group worked on patenting biologics, including monoclonal antibodies and genetically engineered viruses, which would eventually be used to design vaccine strains.
Since joining Jones Day in 2004, she has focused on all aspects of patent law as it relates to the fields of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and diagnostics. “I’ve made more of an impact here, I think, than I would have done looking at projects like nuclear pores or receptors as an academic.”