Alex Dunlop is an intellectual property (IP) lawyer and patent attorney who’s combined his passion for science with his love of law. Discover how he helps clients obtain and enforce their IP rights, while supporting the next generation of students to succeed at La Trobe.
As a high school student, alumnus Alex Dunlop (Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Science, 2007) found himself having to choose a new year 12 subject to take along with physics and maths, which had long been his passions. The head of his senior school happened to be the legal studies teacher, and suggested Alex enrol in his class.
“He said, ‘I think you’ll find this interesting, and it will be different to the other subjects you’re already studying.’ I took that advice and within a few weeks I thought, ‘This is great! I think this might be what I want to do.’” Alex says.
Having relatively little exposure to the legal profession before then, Alex researched different university courses that might combine his scientific skills with his interest in law. He realised he could study a law degree and a science degree at the same time, and set his sights on that path. After taking a gap year in the UK, Alex was delighted to be accepted into La Trobe.
I was really attracted to the tight-knit, inclusive nature of the La Trobe Law School. I also really liked the University – my father had studied there in the 1980s, and I had spent a week there doing work experience in Year 10, so I was a little familiar with the place.
Looking back, he sees his choice to study law as a good example of ‘something great happening almost by chance’.
“But for that initial conversation, I mightn’t be where I am in my legal career today,” he says.
Blending science and a legal career
At La Trobe, Alex was heavily involved with the Law Students' Association, spending four years on the committee and having the privilege of becoming President in his final year. Many of his favourite memories are of the work the Association did, such as careers events, publications and social events, and of his law lecturers.
“I have fond memories of Law School stalwarts like John Willis, Heather King and Emeritus Professor Roger Douglas. Without exception, they fostered an inquisitive environment to learn about the law and develop a passion for it.”
Some way into his degree, Alex took a subject in intellectual property law.
Like most people, I knew a little bit about what trademarks, patents and copyright were. But as a discipline, I’d never really put my mind to it until I started looking into subjects that combined law and science. So, I did an IP subject – and I liked it straight away.
Then, in the same way he’d shaped his interests into a double degree, Alex channelled his passion for IP into a career.
“Intellectual property law allows me to work with people who are creative and inventive. I’ve always had a passion for science and innovation, and in my patent work I often get to work with innovative people, which I find very inspiring,” he says.
“Because of the way IP law works, I get to really ‘deep dive’ into areas of trade and commerce that others wouldn’t normally have to think about, and as a result I get to learn a lot about the inner workings of all kinds of fascinating technologies. And, because IP is so far reaching, there’s a huge amount of variety. You never know what the next matter is going to be about.”
On graduating from La Trobe, Alex launched his career with an articled clerkship at a top tier Australian firm, where he was able to rotate through the IP group. That experience confirmed Alex’s desire to focus his career on intellectual property law.
He was admitted to practise in 2008, and has practised exclusively in intellectual property law ever since. Along the way, he has also completed a Master of Intellectual Property Law and qualified as a patent attorney.
“Being qualified as both a lawyer and a patent attorney is relatively rare, and is probably the ultimate combination of my university qualifications. There are only around 1,000 registered patent attorneys in Australia and New Zealand. Of those, the number who are also lawyers is relatively small,” he says.
Today, Alex works as a special counsel in the IP team at Australian law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth. He’s entrusted to help clients to protect the IP rights crucial for their businesses, and finds the responsibility motivating.
As lawyers, we’re put in a privileged position to help people solve their problems, and it’s really important to stay mindful of that.
Each day, he puts key skills he learnt at La Trobe – reviewing issues analytically, with an eye for detail – into practice.
“Every day can be very different, which I find really exciting. A client might contact me and say, ‘I’ve got these rights and I think one of my competitors is infringing them’. I get to look into what the competitor is said to have done and form a view about infringement," he says.
“On the flipside, a client might develop a new product or process, or even an entirely new business, and need help protecting their rights – through trademarks, patents, designs, or all three. And because IP is so wide-reaching, the field of technology or kind of business could be anything at all. I’m 100 per cent biased, but I think it’s the best area of law to work in.”
Keeping the La Trobe connection strong
With over a decade’s experience in IP law, Alex has ample knowledge to give back. Accordingly, he’s been a member of the La Trobe Law School’s Professional Consultative Board since 2010, providing a vital conduit between the University and industry. He’s also helped establish and led La Trobe’s Law Alumni Chapter, and has returned to campus to give La Trobe’s latest law students guest lectures on IP for many years.
“The La Trobe Law School gave me a great deal while I was a student there. I’ve been very happy to return the favour in some small way. It’s great to meet so many students who are interested in IP, and fun to be on the other side of the lectern!”
Alex and his family also give back to La Trobe philanthropically. He and his family have established the Ian Dunlop Memorial Scholarship in honour of his late father, La Trobe alumnus Ian Dunlop (Bachelor of Education, 1987; Diploma of Applied Science – Nursing Education, 1981). The scholarship provides financial support to a La Trobe student in the field of education, who may otherwise not be able to study, and is valued at $5,000 per year of their course.
For Alex, funding a scholarship is an ideal way to celebrate the positive impact studying at La Trobe had on Ian’s life.
“Dad was a big believer in the transformative role education plays. He grew up in Mildura in a modest, single parent household. There was not a great emphasis on education at home, but he enjoyed and did well at school, and was always very big on the value of education himself.”
Ian Dunlop worked for many years as a nurse at the Mont Park Psychiatric Hospital, whose buildings are now part of La Trobe’s campus. But it wasn’t until he was in his forties that he came to study an education degree at La Trobe, which allowed him to teach nurses at Mont Park.
Dad remembered those studies fondly, and was always pleased that he had been able to return to study later in life. My family and I set up the memorial scholarship with the hope that it would help someone to have the opportunity to study who otherwise might not be able to. And I think Dad would be very happy about that, and proud that we’ve set that up.
Naturally, Alex’s commitment to help La Trobe students extends to career advice, too. As someone who’s carved out a specialist legal career that amplifies his talents and feeds his scientific curiosity, his counsel to aspiring junior lawyers is fitting:
“Find an area of law you love and throw yourself into it! Also, find people you enjoy working with. If you can get these two things right, everything else will follow.”
Last updated: 11th May 2020