Question and Innovate
Tracy-Gene Durkin, Esq. ’83
Director, Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox
Tracy Durkin is the leader of the Mechanical & Design Patent Practice Group at Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox, an intellectual property law firm in Washington, DC. Durkin has a well-earned reputation for excellence in design patent law built over the past 30 years. As a result, leading consumer product companies around the world seek out her expertise to protect their most iconic and innovative product designs from would-be copiers. Durkin has received numerous distinctions from leading publications and her peers. In 2018, Financial Times named her one of the “Top Ten Legal Innovators in North America.” World Trademark Review has heralded her for being “as innovative as the products that she protects.” She received her BS, cum laude, in Textile Manufacturing and Marketing from Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science (now Jefferson) and her JD from The George Washington University Law School. She is also a member of the Advancement Council of the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce.
Why did you choose Jefferson, and how did you go from a degree in Textile Manufacturing and Marketing to law?
As a senior in high school, I thought I wanted to go into Fashion Merchandising. Textile had one of the few four-year programs in that field, so I applied and was thrilled to be accepted. In my first week at the school, my adviser suggested I switch to Textile Manufacturing and Marketing, and split my time between the School of Textiles and the Business School.
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a lawyer; the idea developed in my senior year at Textile. I was working in the alumni office doing fundraising, and happened to call an alum who worked at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He said he would not give a donation, but he did have a tip on a job at the Patent Office (which I got), and he mentioned that one of the perks was that they paid for law school.
At the time, I was taking a business law class, so I asked my professor what he knew about patent law. He told me it was a great career because it married the law and science. I can definitely thank Textile for setting me on my career path into law!
I am also grateful to Textile for having a significant impact on my personal life. I met my husband, Kevin, there in the gym at a basketball game.
I’ve worked on a lot of interesting technologies, including inventions that have gone into space with NASA astronauts. But the one I’m most proud to have been involved with is the iPhone. When Apple was ready to launch the iPhone in 2007, they set out to find a patent attorney who could create a global protection strategy for the design. I was fortunate to have been selected, and can say, “I patented the iPhone!” It is one of the most important innovations since the computer; it has such a big impact on our lives.
Take risks. Be open to the possibilities. And most importantly, take advantage of opportunities. Life is a circuitous path; it is not always a straight line from where you are now to where you ultimately want to be. What you think you want to do today may not be a good fit for you tomorrow.
“Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you’re right.” (Henry Ford) It underscores the fact that attitude really determines your success in life—or your failure. It is probably more important than your skills or abilities. The power of positive thinking means a lot to me and has always inspired how I live my life.
I’m on the Advancement Council for the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering, and Commerce, and come back regularly to speak to students about IP law. It’s especially important for the design and engineering students to learn how to protect what they have created before going to talk to a potential company about commercializing their technology or design.
In 2019, I traveled with World Bicycle Relief on behalf of my law firm to Lusaka, Zambia, to donate 150 specially designed bicycles. I saw firsthand how something as simple as a bicycle can have a great impact on healthcare, education, economic development, and gender equality in disadvantaged countries. The bicycles enable health workers to visit patients’ homes; allow students to travel to and from school more easily and safely; provide greater capacity to farmers and entrepreneurs to transport goods; and ease safety concerns for girls doing household chores and attending school.
For me, giving back is not only about making a financial contribution; it is also about experiencing the mission on a personal level. In Zambia, we rode the bikes for three days with the recipients—students, farmers, and healthcare workers. We experienced their lives. It was the most humbling experience I’ve ever had. I’m still involved with the organization and hope to one day go back and relive that incredible experience with others.
Take risks. Be open to the possibilities. And most importantly, take advantage of opportunities. Life is a very circuitous path; it’s not always a straight line from where you are now to where you ultimately want to get to.