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Get to Know: Jason Rantanen

Jason Rantanen

Professor of Law and Ferguson-Carlson Fellow in Law; Director, Iowa Innovation, Business & Law Center


Hometown: Binghamton, New York 

Alma Mater:
AB, Brown University
MA, University of Chicago
JD, University of Chicago

Joined Iowa Law: 2011

Courses: Introduction to Intellectual Property; Patent Law; Trademarks & Unfair Competition; Administrative Law; the Innovation, Business & Law Colloquium; and the interdisciplinary Iowa Medical Innovation Group course.

Scholarship: Patents, federal courts, and empirical legal studies. Known among patent law practitioners for work on the PatentlyO law blog.

What did you do before joining Iowa Law? Following law school, I clerked for the Hon. William C. Bryson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and practiced with the firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP. Immediately prior to joining Iowa Law in 2011, I was a Visiting Researcher at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

Describe your role at the university. Teaching, scholarship and service.  A lot of people think that professors spend all their time with their nose in a book or lecturing, but there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make everything come together and to provide the best opportunities for students.  In addition to teaching most of the law school's intellectual property law courses, I'm the faculty advisor for the Iowa Intellectual Property Law Society student group and direct the Iowa Innovation, Business & Law Center, a student-focused entity that focuses on legal issues presented by emerging technologies. I also chair the law school’s internal procedures committee, am part of our learning outcomes and assessments team, and serve on various university committees and working groups, such as the brand advisory council, faculty policies & compensation committee, research council and intellectual property committee. In 2019, I co-chaired the University of Iowa Core Values Refresh Project.  I also spend a lot of time advising students, especially those interested in careers in intellectual property law.

How did you decide to join the legal profession? My father was a small-town farm lawyer, and I spent a lot of time in his office as a kid. As a rural lawyer, he did a lot of different types of legal work.  A big part of it involved real property transactions: deeds and mortgages. He put me to work pretty early on doing tasks from photocopying abstracts of title to driving to county seats to check physical copies of records.  My favorite projects were the ones in which we were able to really help people out, like preparing the materials for a bond so that a volunteer village fire department could purchase a new engine. 

What do you enjoy most about working in a higher education/law school setting? The students are a driving force that make me love teaching at law school. They bring a passion with them and a natural curiosity about the world. Our students at Iowa are very smart, capable and hard working. That’s a great combination to teach—it really keeps you on your toes!

I also really enjoy the changing of the academic seasons. Fall, winter, spring and summer—they all have very different feels. In the fall, the energy at the law school is terrific: new law students bring their excitement and energy and returning law students are recharged from their summers spent putting their knowledge and skills into practice. Everyone is ready and eager to learn. In the winter, people turn inward, bearing down on their studies and work. That’s when a lot of student writing gets done, whether it’s first year students working on their legal analysis and writing projects, or upperclass students writing briefs for moot court competitions or working on journal notes. Spring brings a sense of renewal, but also some impatience. Students have spent the past several months studying and learning; now they want to do. That eagerness culminates in graduation, when our third year students prepare to launch their own careers. Summer, for me, is a time of work: mostly, I spend it writing articles and essays about the law. It gets me recharged and energized for the fall around the corner. 

What makes you passionate about your work? I really enjoy seeing students progress along a path—going from uncertainty and insecurity about what they know and how to analyze problems to being able to confidently solve problems and draw upon their storehouse of knowledge. One of my colleagues likes to use the analogy of flowers to describe our students, and I think it’s apt: seeing our students bloom is what drives me to constantly improve how I approach teaching them. 

What’s your favorite book, or what are you reading right now & why do you enjoy it? I recently finished reading Tim Brown’s Change by Design and the Kelley brothers’ Creative Confidence, two books about the IDEO and Stanford D-School design process.  Although nominally about product design—a core component of the interdisciplinary IMIG course that I teach—human-centered design thinking has a lot of lessons relevant to both teaching and practicing law.  It also opens up whole new ways to solve problems through a combination of better understanding what the client or customer really needs, rapid prototyping, and getting as much feedback as possible as early as possible.  I’ve put a lot of these insights to work both in my teaching and service at the law school and beyond.

Jason Rantanen