I am asked from time to time how the subjects of this Fra Noi Professional Portfolio column are chosen. Sometimes by referral, but usually reading in some publication about a significant accomplishment or event of an Italian-American from our community. I learned about this month’s subject in reading the most recent issue of Leading Lawyers National Women’s Edition — Janet A. Pioli.
Recently featured in the Women’s Edition of Leading Lawyers Network Magazine, Pioli doesn’t save lives, but her work protects the companies that do.
A patent lawyer and shareholder at Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione, Pioli represents clients who design and manufacture medical devices in many clinical areas, including the field of aortic intervention — he treatment of aneurysms and other diseases that affect the body’s aortic system.
Her philosophy is to ensure that her client’s patents not only cover its products and inventions, and to make it difficult to design around the patent. She also ensures that the patent can withstand challenges in litigation.
In asking Ms. Pioli for materials to use for this article, she sent me the following narrative. And as we have done in this column from time to time, we present her distinguished career in her own words.
I have had an interesting career. I grew up in Normal, Ill. My father is sort of first generation Italian. His mother was born in the U.S., but his father was not. I have the manifest from the ship my great-grandmother came over on with my grandfather and three other children when my Nono was almost 12. When I first saw it on Ellis Island it brought tears to my eyes. It also was the impetus for my father finally wanting to go see where his dad was from. (Grandpa always told him how poor they were and that there was nothing good about it — except the travels into the hills with his Grandpa Montenari to make shoes for people).
I have been to the town where my Grandpa Pioli was from. The town is Cavriago, just outside Reggio Nell’ Emilia in Emilia Romagna, and the cemetery where all the dead Piolis and Montenaris are. The first cross street coming into town from Reggio is called Via G. Pioli — a cousin of my grandfather’s who was executed by the fascista in WWII along with three other freedom fighters. He is considered a local hero.
The town was once very poor but is now quite prosperous. My grandmother’s family (Castelli) is from the Bologna area. I have third cousins there whom I met in November 2011. Ettore is an attorney also, and Emanuela is a physician. We apparently have additional family (whom they promised to introduce me to next time I return) in Lizzano in Belvedere, a town outside of Bologna.
My Nona (Luisa Pioli, nee Castelli) stayed in touch with her family there until she died at 102 and traveled to Italy often. When I would stay with my Pioli grandparents, they would argue across the kitchen table in their Italian dialect. It was a good thing I did not know what they were saying because I think my grandpa thought I was a spoiled brat!! But my grandma adored me. One last thing: The young ROTC officer that was killed in the NIU shooting a few years back was my grandmother’s youngest sister’s granddaughter (my third cousin, I believe it works out). I never knew her.
There’s the Italian background. I went to Illinois State for college not really sure at that time what I wanted to be when I grew up — majoring in political science with other focuses in English and Communications. I went to law school at Northern Illinois University Law sort of on a whim (my mom wanted me to get my accounting degree). My property law prof (also Italian, A. Samuel Oddi) also taught the Intellectual Property classes — patents, copyrights and the like. I loved him and his classes and after my second year of law school was certain I wanted to be a patent lawyer. But, without a science or engineering degree it was a long shot.
I sent resumes to every patent firm in the city and got rejected by every office except one. They hired me and I became even more convinced that this was my calling, but still lacked the background. I left that firm for another that made it a condition of employment to go back to school to get the education to be able to sit for the patent attorney exam with the Patent and Trademark Office. It took me about four and a half years, but I did it (Biology/Chemistry) and became a registered patent attorney in 1992. I worked in-house at Helene Curtis here in Chicago and the Olin Corporation briefly in Connecticut. I have been with the highly respected Chicago IP firm of Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione for about 15 years, am a shareholder, and the current president of the prestigious Intellectual Property Law Association of Chicago.
My practice includes counseling, patent prosecution, portfolio management and oversight, right to use and patentability studies and opinions, appeals (both to the Federal Circuit and the Board of Patent Appeals — the latter of the two is very active), and advertising clearance.
Other stuff: I took private Italian lessons for two years from a young woman from Como Italy until she left to do her doctorate at Stanford. Needless to say, my Italian is suffering badly. I tie my own tortellini and make my own pasta, and am learning to play piano for the first time. We are going back to Italy, I hope, in October.
Another (wonderful) example of the best of our community has to offer.