Alumni in Academia: A trailblazer in Intellectual Property Law
Throughout her professional career, Professor Sharon Sandeen, ‘85, has been a trailblazer. She was the first person in her family to go to law school and is a first-generation college graduate. She graduated first in her class at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. She also co-authored the first casebook on Trade Secret Law.
Sandeen began her studies at McGeorge School of Law as an evening student, which allowed her to keep her job working for the California Legislature. After graduating, Sandeen practiced business litigation for 11 years at Downey Brand, one of Sacramento’s foremost law firms.
For Sandeen, protecting intellectual property rights is personal. She became familiar with the then-relatively novel field of law while representing a family member who worked as an inventor and had his product copied by a competitor. Representing him in court led to a career-long passion in that niche field.
Sandeen developed a unique expertise in intellectual property law — specifically trade secret law — reflected in the prominent organizations that she has been a part of. Sandeen was one of the founding members of the Sacramento County Bar Intellectual Property Section. She was also the first attorney practicing in Sacramento and the Eastern District of California to serve on the executive committee of the Intellectual Property Section of the State Bar of California.
Sandeen became interested in teaching Intellectual Property Law to the next generation of lawyers because of McGeorge. In the spring of 1996, then-Associate Dean, Kathleen Kelly (one of Sandeen’s former professors), asked her to teach an Intellectual Property Law class at McGeorge.
“That speaks to the importance of diversity, inclusiveness, and representation because she gave me a chance when other people would not,” Sandeen reflected.
As she taught at McGeorge between 1996 and 2003, Sandeen’s role on campus progressively expanded. She was the founding director of the Business and Economic Development Clinic and served as director of the Intellectual Property Concentration.
In her current role at Mitchell Hamline School of Law as the director of the Intellectual Property Institute, Sandeen continues to teach courses in Intellectual Property, including Trade Secret, Trademark, and Copyright Law, as well as Computer and Internet Law.
The breadth of Sandeen’s research in intellectual property law is exceptional. To date, she has published 23 articles, 11 book chapters, and six books. One of those books is the only casebook in the United States on Trade Secret Law.
“When I became a law professor, very few people even knew about trade secret law or wrote about it. One of my decisions early on was to develop that area of law as a field of scholarship, which I am pleased to say has now happened,” Sandeen remarked.
Over the course of her career, Sandeen has gained widespread recognition for her scholarship on trade secrets. She was elected as a Fellow of the American Bar Association Foundation in 2012 and as a member of the prestigious American Law Institute in 2016.
Sandeen’s recognition as an expert in trade secret law extends internationally. In 2019, Sandeen was awarded a Fulbright grant, serving as the Fulbright-Hanken Distinguished Chair in Business and Economics at the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, Finland. There, she researched comparative trade secret law between the United States and the European Union.
This year, the World Intellectual Property Organization asked Sandeen to speak at their conference in Geneva.
“It was remarkable because the World Intellectual Property Organization, which has existed for decades, ignored trade secret law for a long time. But in the last three or four years, it has been paying more attention, which is a big development.”
Sandeen is the first to admit that the path to becoming a law professor is not an easy one, but offers this advice for students: “Don’t be dissuaded.”
“One of the things I have learned is that there are norms in the legal profession and legal academy that tend to be exclusionary, but they are not rules, and some of them have gone by the wayside,” Sandeen advised. “If you want to become a professor, there is a way, when you show that you know what you are talking about and you add value to a law school.”
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