As a patent lawyer, Roger Denning has learned about topics ranging from how golf balls are made to the biochemistry behind a new drug.
When it comes to arguing patent issues, “you really have to become a teacher to the jury," said Denning, managing principal for Fish & Richardson LLC. “It's fun being in front of the jury, arguing in front of the judge.”
He added he has the opportunity to consult with experts — some considered the world's best.
“I can call these people up, and ask, ‘Can you explain this to me?’” said Denning, a 41-year-old Kansas native.
A Kansas State University graduate, Denning earned his B.S. in electrical engineering.
"I've always known since I was in high school that I was going to be a lawyer — that was the easy part," Denning said.
One day, while talking with friends, someone suggested he go into patent law — but the idea of sitting in front of “stacks and stacks” of pages didn't thrill him, he said.
Denning earned his law degree from the University of Chicago in 1997 and went to work for a firm in the Windy City, but after three winters, “that was enough,” he said.
It was during his six years at the former Brown & Bain firm in Phoenix that Denning discovered patent litigation.
One memorable case — in fact, his first trial — involved a semiconductor company sued by record company giant EMI over infringement.
Representing the defendant in a Delaware court, Denning prevailed.
“That's when it clicked," he said. "It was very inspirational."
Fish & Richardson, which specializes in intellectual property, offered him a job in 2003, so Denning and his family headed to San Diego.
"I thought, ‘This is the big leagues,'” he said.
Other memorable cases involved Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) and video coding technology.
Denning said his schedule can be demanding in another way, because he can “spend more time on the road than working in my office.”
Over the years, Denning said he's taken one piece of advice to heart: “I've tried a lot of cases with a lot of terrific lawyers, and they all have very different styles,” Denning said. “While one can learn by watching others, but ultimately, you have to be yourself. If you can be yourself, then you’re ahead of the game.”
Along with his cases, Denning also manages a staff of more than 100 — and keeping them motivated and happy requires a “whole different set of skills,” he added.
Juanita Brooks, a principal at the firm, called Denning one of the best attorneys and managing principals with whom she's worked.
“He manages to keep our office running smoothly, which is a little like herding cats,” she said, jokingly.
“He also happens to be a joy to work with as a person. He's always so even-keeled, and can handle any situation with complete professionalism," Brooks added.
With three small children at home — Lila, 8; Tess, 5; and Owen, 1 — Denning doesn't have much time to relax.
When not spending time with them and his wife of 18 years, Michele, Denning makes time to coach T-ball, play golf and watch the Kansas State Wildcats football team.