The science of law

Alumna puts science background to work as patent lawyer.

By Styliana Resvanis
Mary Anthony “Mary An” Merchant, PhD ’85, JD ’93

Mary Anthony “Mary An” Merchant, PhD ’85, JD ’93

Mary Anthony Merchant’s Gainesville roots run deeper than most — after all, her family counts among the early settlers of Hogtown. Her family’s home was not far from where the Alachua County Courthouse now stands. And her father, a former owner and publisher of a newspaper in Madison, Florida, received his undergraduate and law degrees from UF.

So when she graduated from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (now Randolph College) in Virginia and contemplated graduate schools, she didn’t need to look far.

“It was an easy choice to go to Florida; it’s a premier university,” said Merchant, PhD ’85, JD ’93. “At the time, my brother-in-law was on the faculty at the College of Dentistry, and my sister was a librarian at the main library. We’re a UF family.”

While working on her doctoral degree at the UF College of Medicine in the 1980s, she targeted her research on mammalian and plant molecular biology, protein biochemistry, immunology, microbiology and infectious diseases. Today, the Atlanta resident calls upon her research background daily as an intellectual property attorney and partner at Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP, where she specializes in products and inventions in the life sciences field, including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, cosmetics and medical devices.

“Having a PhD allows me to speak one-on-one with top inventors around the world,” said Merchant, who also graduated from the UF College of Law in 1993. “Whether I’m talking to scientists from large
corporations who are working with genetically modified organisms or people in the molecular biology realm who are doing genetic sequencing, the training I received at Florida provides me with an
understanding of the science.”

Merchant added that the landscape of the UF College of Medicine also helped prepare her for interacting with people from all walks of life.

“It was a microcosm of international experience,” she said. “Working with people from different cultures is very important in science because it’s an international pursuit.”

Whether she’s drafting a plant patent to protect an orange tree for a client in Florida, finding funding for a client in Europe or reviewing a design patent for a medical device business, Merchant said her work is the bridge between “science and practicality,” allowing her to help turn inventions made in a lab into products that can impact people’s lives.

“We need people who understand how science happens and how discoveries are made,” she said, noting that once patents are created, they undergo review by courts, judges and juries who might not have scientific backgrounds. “You have to be a translator between two worlds: the scientific world and the legal world.”