Alumni Spotlight: Mercedes Hobson ’13

Mercedes Hobson ’13 planned to become a doctor. At the University of California, Los Angeles, she was studying Psychobiology and preparing for medical school. She was doing well academically, but something felt off.

“I noticed a difference between myself and my pre-med peers,” Hobson says. “We’d learn about a disease, and my classmates would be excited to get into the lab and find a cure. I had the opposite feeling: I wasn’t able to disconnect from seeing so many people in pain.” Halfway through college, Hobson realized that she didn’t want to pursue medicine.

“Everything I had been doing up until that point was pre-med focused,” Hobson says. “Accepting that I no longer wanted to pursue medicine felt earth-shattering.”

She consulted with a career counselor and found herself talking animatedly about how, as a Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholar, she had enjoyed researching grants for the foundation.

“I loved contracts—I’d been writing ‘contracts’ since I was 3 years old,” Hobson jokes, “as in, I’m loaning you this pencil.” She also loved her science major. Hobson’s career counselor gave her a pamphlet on patent law. After reading it, for the first time in a long time Hobson felt relief. Essentially everything described in the pamphlet was what she naturally loved to do.

Today, she is an intellectual property attorney (with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Patent Bar Registration) for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in Austin, Texas. She works with many different parts of the company, advising her clients on a wide range of intellectual property-related issues and helping to ensure that software products are cleared to launch. The role is fast-paced and includes work on intellectual property licensing and transactional agreements, copyrights, trademarks, and patents.

“There are no mundane days,” Hobson says. “I’ve always been a nerd. I love tech, and I love that I get to support clients who are involved in all types of fascinating technological projects. I especially enjoy the projects centered on analytics and artificial intelligence.”

Though Hobson embraced patent law early, she took an indirect route to law school. After college, she worked for Enterprise Rent-A-Car in a customer service role.

“Working very hard in customer service, in a job I wasn’t passionate about, reinforced how hard I would be willing to work in law school,” she says.

While working for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hobson networked within the intellectual property legal community in Los Angeles. She learned that NYLS offered specialized patent law coursework and that New York City was an ideal location to launch a patent law career. Hobson was also familiar with NYLS’s campus, having been to networking events a few blocks north at the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

As soon as she entered NYLS, Hobson gravitated towards intellectual property classes, finding that the subject was as engaging as she’d hoped. She affiliated with NYLS’s Institute for Information Law and Policy, now the Innovation Center for Law and Technology, where she learned how to perform a patent search, and sought professional advice from Courtney Fitzgibbons, Assistant Dean for Academic Planning and Career Development.

“I don’t know how many times Courtney and I strategized about the classes I would choose, my cover letter, and my internships,” Hobson says. “I mentor other young people today, and I share a lot of the skills Courtney taught me.”

Hobson landed summer internships at New York Life Insurance Company and Pitney Bowes. The latter introduced her to patent infringement and open source software work. Next she interned at IBM, which led to a patent law job. Hobson worked in IBM’s New York office until relocating to Austin earlier this year to take on an expanded role. She’s happy to be closer to family in the South and West but grateful that she began her career in New York City.

“NYLS gives you practical skills for navigating the legal career field and the necessary hands-on experience to be a successful attorney,” she says. “If you can survive in New York City, you can go anywhere.”