Midway through his senior year of high school, Adam West was struggling to figure out his next step––so he turned to someone he trusted for advice.
“I asked my mom what I should do with my life,” West says. “And without hesitation, she gave me the answer that started me down the path I’m still on today. She said, ‘Adam, go and get an engineering degree, and if you want to go further, go to law school and become a patent attorney.’”
Taking his mother’s directive to heart, West went on to obtain two engineering degrees and a law degree. He now serves as senior counsel and director of IP at multinational technology company Altair, where he seeks to bolster the efforts of his innovator clients by leveraging his legal expertise and applying lessons from his own technical background.
His mother may have influenced his career trajectory, but West credits his father with motivating him to succeed. A phone company employee, his father put in hard hours working on outdoor lines, no matter the weather. “He was basically fearless when it came to work,” says West. “That really inspired me to stick with my plan.”
That plan saw West get his start at Landon IP, a provider of IP support services. After learning the basics of patent research at Landon, West joined audio electronics company HARMAN International as a patent engineer. “The prospect there was to learn more and go further in IP,” he says. “Within a year of me being at HARMAN, they promoted me to patent attorney. It was one of the coolest roles that I could have asked for at that point in my life.”
Following HARMAN’s acquisition by another company, West accepted an IP attorney position at Visteon Corporation. He managed the global technology company’s patent portfolio while pursuing a master’s degree in engineering on the side. In addition to reinforcing his technical expertise, the degree ended up informing the future of his career as an IP attorney.
“I had to do a lot of simulation work using Altair software in one of my courses, and the professor had nothing but really good things to say about not just the software, but the company in general,” West elaborates. “Then, out of nowhere, Altair sent me a message on LinkedIn to see if I was interested in applying for a role in their legal department.”
West came on board at Altair in September of 2020. Since then, he has handled and advised on all IP-related matters—from copyrights, inventions, and trade secrets to acquisitions and licensing agreements. With regard to the latter, he has made it his mission to ensure that Altair’s interests are protected. “We did a big initiative early on in my tenure to create a whole new OEM template that we’ve now rolled out to all of our different product lines and divisions,” he says. The new agreement template achieves a fairer balance of terms than previous iterations, such that Altair benefits from licensing deals as much as its partners do.
Open-source software has been another major area of focus for West. “The nature of open-source from the legal side is quite complex because it’s an offshoot of many other different areas of law,” he explains. “I’ve been able to develop some processes and programs to help educate the technical community and simplify what they should be doing in relation to the open-source initiative.”
Education and simplification are key components of West’s approach to IP at Altair––and goals he urges aspiring attorneys in the field to adopt. “I look for ways to help encourage the technical and innovation folks––the folks who are actually dreaming up the products of tomorrow that are going to generate revenue,” he says. “I try to remember that when they ask me a question, I need to answer that question, and then if they want to go further and explore some of the underlying rationale, we can do that.”
West strives to provide clear and direct counsel that will leave his clients feeling more confident and better informed. He developed this communication style as an undergraduate student in engineering, and it’s a technique that has stayed with him ever since. “I’ve taken a lot of the foundational pieces from my technical background and translated them over to my legal practice––for example, the ideas of researching, issue-spotting, problem-solving, and adapting communications to my intended audience,” he confirms.
“Adam excels in his role at Altair by combining strong technical and legal expertise with an approachable leadership style,” says Matt Mowers, COO/shareholder at Quinn IP Law. “He encourages stakeholders to collaborate and build a comprehensive global IP portfolio protecting Altair’s current and future business interests. Adam is a great asset to outside counsel who support his work.”
Beyond his tips for interfacing with clients, West emphasizes the necessity of passion when it comes to finding a fulfilling and successful career in IP law. For his part, he thrives on the field’s challenges. More importantly, though, he never loses sight of his role’s purpose: to serve the innovators of Altair.
“They are asked to move mountains, and they need someone to support their efforts and guide them in the right direction,” says West of his business and technical clients. “They are the reason I’m fortunate enough to have my position, and I’m very thankful to be able to give my knowledge of the weird and complex field of IP back to them.”