Demand for these specialists is being driven by an explosion in patent applications in recent years and a growing need for lawyers to protect old patents or challenge new ones. The U.S. Patent Office estimates 450,000 patent applications will be filed this year, up from about 350,000 five years ago.
Law professors say they're seeing more students with strong science backgrounds make the leap to law, where recruiters are snapping them up.
Lots of legal academics are mentioned:
"It's an exciting area of legal practice right now," said University of Pennsylvania law professor R. Polk Wagner. "Every year I see more and more people coming into law school with technical backgrounds."
"It almost scares me," said Wagner, whose proteges include Weathers. "Who's left in the lab?"
Stanford professor Mark Lemley, a noted patent lawyer involved in two of the recent Supreme Court cases, sees the legal landscape changing even within his classroom. Next to the more traditional law students with liberal arts backgrounds, he now finds a growing number of science majors of varying ages and backgrounds.
Last year, 140 students piled into his Introduction to Intellectual Property course, making it the largest class at the school.
"That's the kind of thing that 15 years ago would have been inconceivable," said Lemley, whose recent work includes a friend-of-court brief in a Supreme Court patent-infringement fight involving eBay.
To harness that interest, Stanford is joining the handful of law schools that have started joint degree programs in science and law.
Stanford's law school dean, Larry Kramer, sensed the need for the program after moving to the Silicon Valley from New York University a few years ago.
One board had the following post:
When you read articles like this one, it means it is time to avoid patent law like the black plague. It is sort of like becoming a petroleum engineer in late 1970's, an anti-trust lawyer in the 1980's, a defense contractor in the early 1990's, an Internet guru or a stock broker in 2000, or a real estate agent in 2006. Don't get caught up in the hype, the bubble has burst."