For more than 15 years, one of the Twin Cities' most influential law firms has quietly grown and thrived in Woodbury. It is Shumaker & Sieffert, a patent law firm founded in 2001 by two long-time Woodbury residents, Steve Shumaker and Kent Sieffert. In addition to their legal credentials, both partners have backgrounds as electrical engineers, which has been key to the firm's growth in helping major high-tech clients like Medtronic, Google and Twitter.
After earning an electrical engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin, Shumaker considered other options, including medical school, but opted for law school at George Washington University in D.C. While in law school, he worked as a patent examiner for the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office and then became a registered patent agent.
Sieffert earned an electrical engineering degree from Michigan Tech, then a masters in computer engineering at the University of Michigan. He joined 3M in 1991, as lead software engineer in medical imaging. Shumaker handled patents for a number of Sieffert's 3M inventions. He attended law school at the University of Minnesota and became a patent attorney in 1998.
Eventually, Shumaker and Sieffert both ended up at Minneapolis patent law firm Fish and Richardson, working on intellectual property business (patents, licensing and trade secret protection). They worked together on electronics and software patents and considered launching their own firm, which they did in 2001. “When we started, it was just the two of us, along with a couple of paralegals,” Sieffert says. “We really hit the pavement and flew all over the country, meeting with high-tech firms to describe our expertise and skill set.”
Shumaker's basement served as the firm's office for the first few months, until they were able to lease office space on Bielenberg Drive. The firm had eight patent attorneys by the end of its first year; after years of steady growth, Shumaker & Sieffert now has 41 patent attorneys, and two patent agents, with a total of 74 employees. Its clients include 10 Fortune 500 companies, including 3M, Medtronic, IBM, Honeywell, Twitter and Qualcomm, among others. The firm moved to its current Radio Drive location in 2007.
“When we started, Steve and I debated whether we needed to be downtown,” Sieffert says, adding that their families were also involved in the decision. “We decided that we could open out here in Woodbury and have the practice we want, while being close to our families.” As a result, in their off-hours, the attorneys have time to do things like coach their kids' softball and basketball teams. Another benefit is that “clients tend to visit here more than if we were downtown,” Sieffert notes.
Shumaker & Sieffert has grown to become one of the largest patent firms in the Midwest. And last August, the firm achieved a milestone when its 5,000th client patent was issued. Both partners also teach patent law at the University of Minnesota Law School.
It's possible that offspring of both founders might someday follow in their dads' footsteps as engineers. Shumaker and his wife, Moni, have two kids, Heather and Eric, both of whom attended Woodbury High School and are engineering students at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Sieffert and his wife, Karen, also have two kids, Collin and Bridgette. Both are East Ridge High School alumni and both are engineering students at the University of Minnesota.