Let’s be clear: Dwight Thompson is a genius. The Stanford PhD established himself as a talented circuit engineer with Analog Devices Inc. He earned his JD from the University of San Diego before he practiced patent law at Fish & Richardson PC. Yet he’ll be the first to tell you why his educational background is not entirely why he made it to where he is today.
“I went to school [for] a long time, and I think the key is to realize that you don’t need school to continue learning,” Thompson says. “You’ll always continue to learn. As long as you develop that learning process in your head and have expectations, you can learn a lot in terms of knowing your field and other fields. And that’s something that will stick with you throughout your life.”
Thompson—who joined SAS as a principal patent counsel in 2012—taps into the innovation potential of the largest private software company in the world. Even if his engineering days are past him, he brings an unparalleled level of tech savvy to SAS’ intellectual property operations and spearheads solutions to legal challenges the company faces.
“I’ll engage others in general to think about innovating,” Thompson says.
Consider how Thompson developed House Bill 776 in North Carolina. Because North Carolina law required documents to be notarized in person before COVID-19, residents and notaries lacked a safe way to sign them once the pandemic hit. So Thompson researched laws from other states that legalized remote notarizations and took matters into his own hands.
“I noticed there were some other states that had remote notarization laws, such that you could do it online,” Thompson says. “You could just use DocuSign, for example. But we didn’t have that, so as an academic exercise, I had some legal interns and we just worked on that project. It was like, what if we just drafted an online notarization law for North Carolina?”
Sure enough, Thompson and his team drafted what became NC House Bill 776, which allows notaries to notarize documents remotely. North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall remodeled their version and introduced it to the state representatives and senators. Then North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed the bill into law in 2022.
Meanwhile, what makes Thompson stand out among his counterparts isn’t his résumé or accomplishments. It’s how much he embraces the never-ending marathon of working in IP. No matter how many twists and turns come with it, he trusts the process and understands how it fits into the bigger picture. And this makes for a winning formula when he collaborates with internal teams and third parties.
“There’s a larger theme there, at least in terms of patents,” Thompson says. “It’s a similar theme that’s actually going to fit within the process to keep trying and trying and trying until you succeed and get something to work. And sometimes it doesn’t have to be much better than what’s out there. They just have to be different, they have to be your solution, and they have to be uniquely yours.”
After SAS lost a case in the US Patent Attorney’s Office, the company appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court. Despite having previous appeals denied in the federal circuit, the company noticed the court only proceeded with a handful of patent challenges. So it filed one more appeal, and the Supreme Court moved forward with SAS Institute Inc. v. Iancu.
“They had a procedure that we disagreed with in terms of how we felt Congress instructed the Patent Office to do it,” Thompson says. Once the case ended in 2018, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the SAS Institute. Its decision changed how patent claims are reviewed. Now, if the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) conducts an inter partes review, it must judge every patent claim that petitioners contest.
“They have changed how patents, especially the claims of patents, are reviewed at the PTAB,” Thompson says.
Still, whether Thompson is in the classroom, the lab, or SAS headquarters, he goes above and beyond to deliver on DEI initiatives and invest in rising talent. He meets with teams to speak about the company’s mission and its goals. He gauges and analyzes feedback from diverse employee resource groups. Plus, he mentors students from law schools who land internships in his department.
“We ask the students to come into our internship at SAS for the semester,” Thompson says. “We have [had] some great students throughout the years, and so it’s just really nice to talk to them and have them reach out to you to tell them about what it’s like being a lawyer, [an] in-house counsel. To have them work on some projects, see them graduate, and take off in their careers is really rewarding.”
PatSnap: “Dwight, and the entire SAS team, have been a pleasure to work with on their IP goals and strategies. We admire Dwight’s tenacity and expertise; he is an engaged customer helping PatSnap build a product that empowers like-minded IP professionals. We are excited to continue this partnership and congratulate Dwight on this well-deserved recognition.”
–Paige-Ruby Dorman, Senior Account Manager