Inside Track and Law

Ability to serve others marks a successful life

September 4, 2012
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As a child, James Mitchell had designs on becoming a man of the cloth. While his devotion to God remains strong today, it was a Gilbert chemistry set a cousin gave him for Christmas when he was in the seventh grade that changed his career’s direction.

There was something about the alchemy of Bunsen burners, flasks, magnifying glasses and simple chemistry experiments that ignited an intellectual curiosity and set him on a path to a career as a chemist.

“That was it,” said Mitchell. “I knew it then: That’s what I wanted to do.”

It was no surprise to anyone, least of all to Mitchell, when he enrolled at Michigan Technological University in Houghton and graduated in 1965 with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry.

But, Mitchell acknowledges that, ultimately, becoming a chemist was not in his future. While in his senior year at Michigan Tech, he asked a friend what he intended to do after he graduated. His friend replied he intended to enroll in law school.

Mitchell’s intellectual curiosity was sparked again.

“I was rather fond of the academic womb,” he said. “I said to my friend, ‘I think I’ll go with you.’”

Mitchell made his decision to apply for law school on a Thursday night, and the law school aptitude test was set for Saturday morning. His friend said he had been studying for several months and expressed doubts that Mitchell would be ready for such an exam.

Undaunted, Mitchell made the necessary phone call on Friday, paid the $50 fee to take the test on Saturday and passed.

JAMES A. MITCHELL
Company/Organization:
Mitchell Intellectual Property Law PLCC
Position: President
Birthplace: Grandville
Residence: Grand Rapids Township
Family: Wife, Joan; two sons, Christopher and Andrew; and four grandchildren.
Business/Community Involvement: Historical Society for U.S. District Court for Western District of Michigan; Mel Trotter Ministries; Gerald R. Ford Council for Boys Scouts of America; Aquinas College Foundation; advisory council to Hauenstein Center.
Biggest Career Break: Being mentored by Lloyd Heneveld, co-founder of Price Heneveld law firm. “He was like a second father to me.”

He graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1968, specializing in pharmaceutical patent litigation, including the Hatch-Waxman Act, chemical patent and trademark litigation.

Mitchell speaks of his years at U-M as if it were yesterday.

“What a privilege to attend that institution,” he said. “I loved the learning. It was a wonderful, professional ambiance.”

Mitchell’s reputation as a lawyer precedes him. He has experience in all phases of intellectual property law, including patent, trademark and copyright and unfair competition litigation.

He has been admitted to practice for the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal for the federal and other circuits and courts of Michigan. He has served as a member of four judicial screening committees recommending meritorious candidates for appointment to the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Michigan and for appointment to the magistrate position.

He also served on Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell’s task force for attracting knowledge-based industries to Grand Rapids.

Mitchell was previously a partner in the Price Heneveld patent law firm, and then led Varnum’s intellectual property practice from 2008 to early this year.

Perhaps his biggest, or at the very least, his latest challenge in his career is when he launched his own practice, Mitchell Intellectual Property Law PLCC.

Mitchell opened his law firm in February with four attorneys who will provide an array of services including patents, trademarks, copyrights, legal opinions, licensing, litigation, anti-trust and international trade, with particular depth in life sciences, medical devices, nutritional science and work in connection with the Match-Waxman Act passed in 1984 and updated in 2003, which governs the Food and Drug Administration, pharmaceutical patents, generic drugs and other issues related to the health care industry.

“I just decided I wanted to build a legacy, to build this firm into a substantial firm,” said Mitchell.

“I love working with investors and creative people I get to know, and then be able to help and empower them with innovation.”

An unabashed conservative, Mitchell is a long-time devoted Republican, a right-to-life advocate, a supporter of Israel and a Tea Party participant, a mentor of Republican college students and a campaigner for a litany of conservative candidates.

Richard Nixon was among the presidential contenders for whom Mitchell campaigned, in 1960, but he did not support him in the 1968 election. He provides no lengthy explanation for pulling his support for Nixon years later, except to recall that he spelled it out in a letter to Republican National Convention delegates, a letter he can no longer track down.

“I just felt he was too tricky,” Mitchell said of the reason he wanted Ronald Reagan to get the presidential nod in 1968, acknowledging his “tricky” assessment of Nixon was made years prior to the Watergate scandal.

Other presidential hopefuls Mitchell campaigned for include Gerald R. Ford and Jack Kemp. Mitchell also campaigned for George Romney in his first bid for Michigan governor as well as for Barry Goldwater in 1964.

He stumped for Ronald Reagan in his 1980 primary and general election presidential campaign as an organizer and Kent County surrogate speaker, campaigned for astronaut Jack Lousma for U.S. Senate and John Engler for governor in 1990. Engler appointed Mitchell to an eight-year term on the Board of Control of Michigan Technological University, three of which he served as chairman.

Mitchell chaired the West Michigan primary campaign for Keith Butler for U.S. Senate, spoke at the first Tea Party convention in West Michigan held at the Gerald R. Ford Museum in April 2009 and threw his support in for Bill Hardiman for Congress and then Justin Amash for the post U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers vacated.

Mitchell recalls with obvious relish the time when, about five years ago, he met U.S. Supreme Court justices Anthony Scalia and Clarence Thomas, visiting their respective chambers.

His take on the two: Scalia is an advent hunter, and Thomas is an ardent U-M football fan, displaying a football autographed by Michigan Wolverines’ former head coach Bo Schembechler. There were also copies of speeches by abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, and photos of President Ronald Reagan and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“You can tell a lot about people by what they keep in their libraries and office,” said Mitchell.

He believes the bone and marrow of a successful career is seizing opportunities. But Mitchell also believes it’s important to learn how to keep disappointments from smacking down a person’s confidence.

“The way I look at life is, when one door closes, look where another one is open,” he said. “The Lord takes care of us. We just have to trust him.”

Perhaps Mitchell’s can-do outlook is linked to his definition of a successful life: a mutual respect for the Almighty he learned early in his life at Grandville Methodist Church.

“The primary thing is serving the Lord in the way he has pointed you to serve him,” said Mitchell. “That’s a successful life — that and a loving family with a wonderful wife and children and grandchildren, and then providing a service to others. That was hammered into us — service to others. The ability to serve others is a mark of a successful life.”

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