Seven years after Joe Maenner ’86 earned his mechanical engineering degree from Drexel University, he reinvented himself—as an attorney.
After graduation, Maenner returned to his co-op stomping grounds and worked for the U.S. Navy, testing propulsion plant equipment and helping to develop damage control communications systems. But as the Navy cut back, he decided to look for other opportunities.
“I worked long and hard for this engineering degree,” says the 52-year-old. “I was very proud of it. I wanted to still use it.”
Maenner found his ticket next door to his Crystal City, Va., workplace—the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
“I found out you need an engineering or science degree to be eligible to be a patent attorney,” he says. It proved the perfect combination for the engineer who was interested in how things move ever since high school physics but wanted to pursue a profession outside the engineering field.
With a law degree (’96) from The Dickinson School of Law (now Penn State), he has worked at a series of Philadelphia-area law firms, with a stint at an optical telecommunications start-up.
His first patent application was for couplings used in fire sprinkler systems. He also wrote up patents for remote control cars and pump-action water guns.
“I got paid to play with toys,” he quips. Maenner says his Drexel degree proved pivotal to understanding the technical details of an invention—important when researching potential competitors and writing a patent application.
In 2011, Maenner took his expertise gained at his varied jobs and opened his own practice, Maenner & Associates in Downingtown.
“Because of the number and various places where I had worked,” he says, “I was able to take the best practices from the different firms.”
Maenner’s clients include his alma mater. He helps Drexel researchers patent inventions—an automatic shut-off valve, a mobility device, among others—through theDrexel Ventures. Some of his other clients include inventors of a fishing lure, water filter and radon detector.
In addition, Maenner is an adjunct professor who lectures on intellectual property law at Drexel and other universities in the area.
As his own career has proven, an engineering degree can open many doors, and patent law is a viable alternative for those engineers who might not want to stay in the field.
“I love my job,” he says, “because I never know what’s going to come across my desk any single day.”
By Lini S. Kadaba