This article was published in the Washington University in St. Louis Alumni Magazine. See http://magazine-
Judy H. Watts is a free-lance writer based in Santa Barbara, California, and a former editor of this magazine.
Crossing borders comes naturally to Edwin Flores. A citizen of both Mexico and the United States, Flores first earned a Ph.D. in molecular immunobiology from Washington University before entering law school. He now works in the middle of the complex world of intellectual property as it pertains to biotechnology.
That intellectual-property attorney Edwin Flores relishes his bicultural upbringing is patently true. Born in Mexico City 43 years ago to an American mother and a Mexican father (who was the first Mexican citizen to have a Ph.D. in nuclear physics), the lawyer and trained scientist has been finding and fusing dualities all his life. The results are remarkable.
"Since the first day I remember," says Flores of his two- culture childhood, "I spoke English to my mom and Spanish to my dad, but ours was essentially an English-speaking home." Explaining that a person cannot truly perceive a society without knowing its language, Flores says: "My wife, Jesica, is from Mexico, too, and is half-and-half like me. We're doing the inverse—raising our daughters in a Spanish-speaking home in the United States. They are fluent in both languages.”
"I can be an example to my family," says Flores. "I can demonstrate the benefit one derives from being not only bilingual but, as a result, bicultural as well. Certainly there are ways in which both of my cultures are extremely intolerant. I've heard people of both my countries say things I thought were completely out of line. But understanding and experiencing the differences in people has given me a heightened awareness that I have choices about the way I am and about everything I do. And the same will be true for my daughters."
Many of Flores' choices are driven by his passion for complexity and challenge. As an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin, he signed up for an advanced course in immunology and reveled in the ensuing contest. "I struggled greatly in that class—and that's what appealed to me about the subject!"
Flores prevailed, of course, and ultimately applied to and was accepted by a raft of graduate schools with "great immunology programs." When he asked a Caltech-trained professor at UT-Austin which one he ought to pick, "she didn't even hesitate" before recommending Washington University's School of Medicine. Indeed, the names of WU professors had been leaping from his textbook: "Emil Unanue (Mallinckrodt Professor of Pathology and Immunology, and head of the Department of Pathology and Immunology); Robert Schreiber (Alumni Professor of Pathology and Immunology); Paul Allen (Robert L. Kroc Professor of Pathology); Judith Kapp; Dennis Loh; Stanley Korsmeyer (former professor of internal medicine and pathology)—it was just a who's who of immunologists."
As a Ph.D. student with the late Matthew L. Thomas, Flores cloned, expressed, localized, and described the biochemistry of novel anti-cancer-causing genes, and published five scientific papers in the journals Molecular and Cellular Biology, Chemical Immunology, Progress in Immunology, and Immunogenetics. Then, halfway through this "very, very challenging" work, he began to consider "an even greater challenge": working at the intersection of science and law as an intellectual-property attorney.
In 1993, the fully credentialed molecular immunobiologist became a scientific adviser with the law firm Arnold, White & Durkee, in Austin. The next year he enrolled at the University of Texas School of Law, where he was chief articles editor of the Texas Intellectual Property Law Journal and president of the Texas Intellectual Property Law Society before earning the J.D. degree in 1996. Perhaps because he was accustomed to encompassing two cultural worlds, Flores had no difficulty "understanding two completely different ways of thinking"—like a scientist and like a lawyer—in his new field.
All forms of intellectual property—products of the mind that are actualized in some tangible form or in a methodology, composition, or process, plus the goodwill that comes from the use of a product or service—are very real assets, Flores explains. The intangible property exists for varying lengths of time as trade secrets that are valuable because they provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace. But because intellectual property must be publicly disclosed to be used, one of three legal safeguards protect it when it is no longer secret: a patent, which accounts for 80 percent of intellectual-property law; a trademark; or a copyright.
The field is booming today, Flores says, because intellectual property is so valuable and because since the 1980s patents have been more consistently enforceable. And rapid advances in science and technology mean that a rising sea of work is teeming with new and highly sophisticated issues to be considered during patent negotiation and writing, litigation, and more. Flores helps take discoveries to the marketplace in areas ranging from molecular biology, biological screening assays, and bioinformatics, to software and semiconductor processing and packaging, and with products that include proteins for vaccines, anti-cancer drugs, molecules that interfere with enzyme action, and DNA units that transfer genetic material between cells. Current clients include the University of Texas system, Baylor College of Medicine, Pharmacia, SP Pharmaceuticals, and clients in Mexico and Venezuela.
Each week Flores receives calls from headhunters offering jobs in established companies, start-up firms, and large pharmaceutical houses from Boston to the San Diego-Palo Alto (California) research triangle. But for now, at least, he is in exactly the position he wants, at Dallas-based Chalker Flores LLP. When he was still in law school, he explains, he sought a place to build a practice without working under a senior attorney in the same area. The arrangement was highly unusual at entry level, but a small intellectual-property boutique, Warren & Perez, met his terms—and later merged with the medium-sized firm Gardere Wynne. Then Flores branched out to start his own firm.
On top of his sweeping professional responsibilities, Flores satisfies his intellectual curiosity and serves his peers by publishing legal papers about "interesting questions that haven't been answered" or about gaps he spots in the law. Issues he has explored in his crystalline prose include the Genetic Privacy Act; practitioners' and clients' options before and after peer review; practicing law before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; and patent prosecution in Mexico. ("You know, we might learn from it," he says.)
"I'm having a great time," he says happily. "It's a wonderful era in which to be a patent attorney. And my pedigree, in a sense, is everything. Attending Washington University School of Medicine was invaluable. I collaborated with labs in every discipline. Students not only receive a superb education and the strongest possible faculty support, they have access to the best equipment and finest investigators in the world. They have the critical mass. Even the outside speakers—all major names in their fields—who were part of our regular weekly immunology speakers program met with students for at least a couple of hours. "I have benefited so much from my experience there," Flores says. "It was just such a great exposure to science."