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From Linux to Law

From Linux to Law

Written by: Gay Auringer
May 30, 2018

S

apna Kumar (’96) was bored in her home high school.  TAMS was her opportunity to learn and grow.  She’s been learning and growing ever since.

Kumar’s TAMS experience allowed her to eventually pursue two very different degrees at UT Austin—a B.S. Mathematics and a B.A. Philosophy—in only three years.  She says that TAMS also provided her with the broad science foundation that allowed her to become a registered patent attorney, and later, a patent law professor.

Kumar was drawn to patent law because of her interest in technology, especially software licensing, and her love of writing and communication.  It allowed her to blend liberal arts with science.

The constant crashing of her Microsoft operating system led her to adopt Linux, an open source code operating system, and it inspired her to learn more about intellectual property (IP) law.  She had become curious about how open source licensing and copyright law worked; courts were getting tough on open source at the time and this eventually led her to patent law.

Even with her new love of law, Kumar found herself longing to do research into ideas that came up while she was practicing as an attorney. She realized that she could not do research in a law firm and decided to move into an academic career. 

As a professor at the University of Houston Law Center and the Co-
Director for the Institute for Intellectual Property and Information Law, Kumar not only promotes IP law in the community, but also serves the needs of students interested in IP careers and fosters their interest. 

Kumar has been selected as a Fulbright-Schuman Research Scholar and Innovation grant recipient. She will spend five months in Europe in 2019; four months will be spent at the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition in Munich, Germany, where she will be researching Europe’s Unified Patent Court. This unified court will enable patent holders to use a single court to enforce European patents, eliminating the need for separate judicial proceedings in each of the thirty-eight member countries.  Kumar will also spend a month at the Center for International Intellectual Property Studies at the University of Strasbourg in France studying the training program for the judges of the Unified Patent Court.  In preparation for her Fulbright, she will spend this July at the Goethe Institute in Freiburg, Germany to improve her German. She began learning German as a hobby many years ago and has found that it has opened many doors; she highly recommended that TAMS students learn a second language to enhance their careers.

Kumar, in part with the Houston Intellectual Property Law Association (HIPLA), has an Amicus Curiae brief before the Supreme Court of the United States.  An opinion is expected in the coming month.  She says this was a great experience for her and she is grateful for the opportunity to work with HIPLA attorneys.

Kumar would like her future research to continue to move in an international direction. She would like to see how U.S. Patent Law interfaces with the world and to branch out into a more global perspective.

When asked what advice she would give to someone interested in her field, she replied “look at the opportunities that are available to you and ask yourself what you need to become a more well-rounded person.  Resist the temptation to specialize too early – I originally thought I would become an astrophysicist and ended up as a law professor!” Also, she suggested that “potential law students take advantage of transfer credits and scholarships get their undergraduate degrees as cheaply as possible, then go to the best law school possible.”

Kumar added, “TAMS provided me with an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and to become more independent.”  Opportunities, sets of circumstances that make it possible to do something, have most certainly presented themselves to Kumar. She has made a habit of accepting the challenges and possibilities those opportunities have presented. 

Sapna Kumar ('96) 

Houston, Texas

What brought you to the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS)?
I was bored at my home high school and had always wanted to attend a boarding school. I also liked the idea of being able to earn so many college credits before graduating from high school.

What did you enjoy most about TAMS?
I met my future spouse, Matt Sayler (’96), in TAMS and made good friends that I still keep in touch with.

How did your experience at the University of North Texas (UNT) and TAMS shape your career path?
All of the credits I earned at TAMS allowed me to earn two very different degrees at UT-Austin (B.S. mathematics, B.A. Philosophy) in only three years. TAMS also provided me with the broad science foundation that allowed me to become a registered patent attorney.

What was the most valuable lesson – inside or outside the classroom – that you learned at UNT and TAMS?
TAMS taught me to take risks and try things that I think I’m not good at. I signed up for an introduction to real analysis class my senior year, knowing that I was bad at proofs. I had a D going into the final exam and wanted to drop, but the professor and my classmates talked me out of it. A few days before the final, everything clicked, and I earned the highest grade on the final exam and a B in the class. That experience directly led to me majoring in math in college.

If you earned a bachelor’s degree, what did you do in the year immediately after graduation?
I took a year off before law school, travelled for a month, and then worked at a start-up as a systems analyst. I’m really glad that I took time off—the work experience made me a better law student, and the work experience helped me land my first job as a patent attorney.

Please share a memorable moment or experience from your time at UNT and TAMS.
I was involved with the Dull Roar music group, and loved all the trips to the Meyerson!

How would you describe UNT, TAMS, and Denton?
TAMS provided me with an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and to become more independent. I enjoyed getting to explore campus and Denton with my friends.

If you could go back and do it all again, would you still attend TAMS? What would you do differently, if anything, during your time as a student?
I would absolutely choose TAMS again! But this time, I would spend more time meeting people and getting involved with student organizations, and spend less time stressing out about grades and colleges. I had worried that not attending an elite university would hurt my career, but that wasn’t the case at all.

What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
I was recently awarded a Fulbright-Schuman Innovation Grant to spend Spring of 2019 in France and Germany researching the formation of the Unified Patent Court in Europe.

Did you pursue any other career paths prior to your current occupation? If so, please describe your occupational history.
I started in private practice as an attorney and quickly realized that my real interest was in research and teaching. I applied for fellowships, and was fortunate to get a two-year position as faculty fellow at the Duke University School of Law, and after that, a judicial clerkship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. These two positions made it much easier for me to land a tenure-track professorship at the University of Houston Law Center.

What advice/insight do you have for TAMS alumni and students interested in your field?
Look at the opportunities that are available to you and ask yourself what you need to become a more well-rounded person. And resist the temptation to specialize too early--I originally thought I would become an astrophysicist and ended up as a law professor!