Heath Briggs (ChemEngr’97) is the definition of a “forever Buff.” Briggs is a Boulder native, CU Boulder alumnus, adjunct professor, and dedicated volunteer to the College of Engineering and Applied Science. Since graduating from CU, Briggs has gone on to have a successful career in patent law. He has been a patent attorney with Greenberg Traurig, LLP for 13 years, and in 2013, he was named to the Denver Business Journal’s 40 under 40 list. Over the past year, Briggs has been a valuable volunteer for the Front Range Regional Network Ambassador program and a stellar representative of CU Boulder. We had the opportunity to sit down with Briggs to learn about his career path and why he remains involved with his beloved alma mater.
Tell us a bit about your career path – when did you know that becoming a patent attorney was something you wanted to pursue?
It is funny. When people find out I am a ChemE grad, they almost all assume I started in Chemical Engineering at CU, but I did not. I started at CU Boulder as an undeclared major in Arts & Sciences because my high school grades were not high enough to get immediately into the engineering school. On top of that, I thought I wanted to become a mechanical engineer, but that quickly dissipated my first year after I took both physics and chemistry. I loved chemistry; I did not love physics. So, I set out to transfer into the ChemE program, which I was able to do after my sophomore year. I clearly remember the dean’s assistant smiling at me when I told her I wanted to transfer into the chemical engineering program, not out of… she said it was usually the other way around.
It took me five years to graduate from the ChemE program. In between my fourth and fifth year, we toured a chemical plant, at which time I realized I did not want to be a “traditional” engineer. I was already working part-time at a local tech company doing sales and marketing, and I enjoyed that a whole lot. That summer, I had also overheard a couple of people talking about engineers who became lawyers so they could help people with their inventions. I was immediately intrigued and began researching that field, which turned out to be patent law.
The spring of my fifth senior year, I got a job offer in Philadelphia doing sales and marketing, which I accepted. I also took the bar exam that spring, with an eye toward going to law school after working for a few years. I was lucky enough to be able to work with lawyers at my first job, which exposed me to patent law as a job. I knew then that I wanted to go to law school. I eventually was accepted to DU law school. I moved back home and continued to work during the day while I went to law school at night.
When I graduated, the job market was tough for patent attorneys, so I ended up working as a family law attorney for about nine months. I then landed my first patent law job at a small local firm. About two years later, I received an offer from Greenberg Traurig, which I took and have worked there ever since.
You have been an adjunct professor for several years. How has your experience with CU Engineering students been? What motivates you to continue teaching?
While I was working in industry, I was shocked by the number of engineers who did not know even the basics of how to protect their intellectual property rights. After I graduated from law school, I mentioned this to then ChemE chair Dr. David Clough and that I would like to teach a class at CU to help with this issue. Dr. Clough graciously agreed, and the course “Intellectual Property for Engineers” was born. Here we are sixteen years later. I am tremendously proud of the class and all of its students. My first class had about 15 students. Last year’s class had over 50 students, and from all of the different engineering disciplines. Dozens of students over the years have gone on to become lawyers or patent agents. I became a lawyer to help people. Teaching is another great way to help people, and I find it extremely rewarding.
Why did you choose to become a Regional Network Ambassador? Have there been any highlights to your role as an RNA since joining the program?
I bleed black and gold. I grew up in Boulder. When I was young, the Buffs had an awesome football team, and I loved going to the games. That continued while I was an undergrad. I also loved the phenomenal education CU provided. I love our unique campus, and I truly believe it is one of the best places in the world to get a college degree. I chose to become a RNA because I want to help give back to the fantastic university that has treated me so well -- being an RNA provides that opportunity. I also think networking helps our local alumni with job opportunities, and I am trying to help with that as much as I can.
You also serve as a member of the Chemistry and Biological Engineering Advisory Council. Why has it been important for you to volunteer your time and give back to the department where you received your degree?
CU has provided me with so many opportunities, and giving back is important to me. I already work with the Food Bank of the Rockies, and this was just another great opportunity to help an institution I love. I also have a daughter who graduated from CU with a chemical engineering degree, so I now have two generations of perspectives that I think helps the Advisory Council. My goal is to help ensure our ChemE students are getting the most out of their experience at CU and that are also presented with job opportunities. Getting that first job can be tough. I would like to make it less so.
What would say to encourage engineering alumni who are considering whether to volunteer with their alma mater?
Volunteering for your alma matter or elsewhere is an extremely rewarding experience -- it is just a great feeling to help others. You will find many of the folks who are volunteering share many of your same goals. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there. You are likely to meet many great and interesting people who come from all walks of life. Also, volunteering and networking go hand-in-hand. Almost every job I have ever had has been the result of networking. The cliché “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” often holds true, especially when looking for a new job. Plus, getting out and meeting people shows motivation and drive, and volunteering indicates a “team player” mentality and shows selflessness. So, in sum, I would say give it a shot, because it is very likely you will get much more out of it than you put into it.