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Get to Know: Jason Rantanen

Jason Rantanen
Professor of Law

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 served as a law clerk to 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 for six years. 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. In addition to my teaching and scholarship work, I am the faculty advisor for the Iowa Intellectual Property Law Society student group and oversee the Iowa Innovation, Business & Law Center. I also chair the law school’s judicial clerkship committee and serve on the law school’s curriculum committee and the University’s Parking and Transportation Committee. 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; probably just to keep me out of the way.

What do you enjoy most about working in a higher education/law school setting? The students are a driving force about what makes 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 seasons that we see. 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 nervous 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, everyone turns more 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 students on journal working on their notes. Spring brings it 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? Just today I was reading back through Edward Levi’s Introduction to Legal Reasoning which is a good book for all people who are involved with the law to go back and read through. I don’t agree with everything he says — in the piece I was working on I actually disagree with some of his approach to what he describes as the law — but it’s still a really good book to think back to. I think that we as students of the law really need to remember to go back and read some of the classics of American law. It’s a mistake to think that we’re the first people to have to deal with a particular legal problem. I see this in patent law all the time: the basic issues of patent law are mostly the same ones that were addressed in the very first patent statute in 1790. Sometimes there are truly new legal issues, but a lot of the problems that we face today are fundamental problems of human society. The difference lies in the level of complexity and interconnectedness that living in a nation of over 300 million people brings. Technology creates new challenges, too. But it’s really important to read widely and not be overly prideful when it comes to thinking about the issues and problems we deal with in our own lives.

Jason Rantanen