For Melanye K. Johnson ’96, an Unexpected Path Results in Success
Growing up in Detroit, Melanye studied several musical instruments, and studied music at national music camps. In addition to music, Melanye also excelled at writing, and majored in journalism and communications at the University of Michigan. “I have always had a creative side to me,” she says.
“Ironically, I took no I.P. classes in law school. I could never fit them into my schedule,” she says. Instead, Melanye was busy “broadening her perspective” while participating in the Oxford summer program, serving as an articles editor on the Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, and working as a judicial extern in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Columbus. She also fondly recalls her time in classes taught by Professors Nancy Rapoport and Barbara Snyder, and her time in the Criminal Defense Practicum with Professors Bob Krivoshey and LeRoy Pernell. “The defense practicum was informational, skill-building, and entertaining all at the same time,” she remembers.
Following law school, Melanye clerked at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and then began practicing law at Howard & Howard in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a general practice firm that gave her the opportunity to practice I.P. law, including patent litigation. From there, Melanye moved to Arent Fox’s Washington D.C. office, and then to DuPont. About her move to DuPont, Melanye says, “I really wasn’t looking to go in-house at the time. Sometimes the best opportunities are the ones that you never count on—the ones you don’t anticipate. You have to take some risks.”
DuPont’s products and services are offered across a broad range of markets, including agriculture, nutrition, electronics, communications, safety and protection, home and construction, transportation and apparel. “Working at DuPont is like getting an armchair MBA,” she explains. “You really have to learn the products, and you have to learn all of the businesses.”
As senior counsel for the Trademark and Copyright Group, Melanye is responsible for managing trademark and copyright litigation and working with DuPont’s marketing and sales functions and her commercial attorney colleagues around the world. “When I get into the office, I talk to Asia, and then Europe, and then to my clients and colleagues in the United States. It’s like that every day,” she says. She spends much of her time dealing with anti-counterfeiting—finding DuPont “fakes” around the world, getting them off the shelf, and ensuring consumer safety.
“Intellectual property is affecting every corner of our society,” Melanye explains about the evolving nature of I.P. law. “I.P. is something that can only get bigger. It can only get hotter. The copyright system that we have today is being radically changed by the Googles and the YouTubes of the world. So we have to rethink some of our traditional methods. In trademark, you have a constant battle against counterfeiting and piracy—it’s turned out to be a war. Not only do you have to know different legal systems, but it’s a political issue—an economic justice issue too.”
Melanye notes that her practice area fulfills the curiosity she always had about the field and is a reflection of her creativity. While handling the procurement and protection of DuPont’s non-patent intellectual property assets worldwide, “you really have to be able to think outside the box,” she says.
In addition to her duties at DuPont, Melanye is an adjunct professor at Widener University School of Law teaching trademark law. “I have great respect for law professors’ ability to communicate in the classroom and get your students to understand what you want them to understand. It takes a special talent to be able to teach and to be able to do it well.” She is also a trustee for the American Intellectual Property Law Education Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting diversity in the intellectual property bar through providing educational, mentoring, and employment opportunities to minority students who wish to develop a career in IP law.
Melanye looks back on her time at Ohio State and is pleased with where her education has taken her. “I’m glad that I went to Ohio State. I had some excellent experiences, excellent professors—several in particular who encouraged me to go forward and take risks. I think that was very valuable advice.”
About her success and her future, Melanye says, “I think the best is yet to come.”
Those wishing to get in touch with Melanye can reach her at Melanye.K.Johnson@usa.dupont.com.