Mary Boney Denison '81 has spent her career working in trademark law, so it didn’t surprise her that one of her daughter’s first words was “Visa.” “Trademarks, which are product identifiers, play a very important role in everybody’s life,” Denison says. “We all recognize them; even children know trademarks by the time they are able to talk.”
Although she didn’t plan on a career in trademark law when she graduated from UNC School of Law, Denison became fascinated by the field after working on trademark infringement counterfeiting cases during her time as an associate in a New York law firm. “Trademark decisions are rarely black and white, which makes the work fun,” she says. “An added bonus is that trademark lawyers are known to be congenial and creative.”
Denison went on to a 30-year career in private practice, including 15 years as a founding partner at the firm of Manelli Denison & Selter PLLC in Washington, D.C. “In my practice, I worked as an advocate,” she says. “I was developing global trademark strategy, clearing trademarks, filing opposition and cancellation proceedings, and providing strategic advice to clients,” which were primarily small and medium-sized businesses in a wide range of fields.In June 2011, Denison left private practice to become the deputy commissioner for trademark operations at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), where she is in charge of operations, overseeing the work of more than 500 employees.
“I’m involved with examination of trademark applications, maintenance of trademark registrations, budget planning and execution, and outreach,” she says. “It’s exciting to work for the federal government because you can change things that you think need to be fixed.”
She encourages young lawyers to work for the government and is enthusiastic about the “hardworking, bright and devoted” employees in her organization. “We’re still hiring, which is exciting in this economy,” Denison says. “The salaries can’t compete (with private practice), but the reward is clearly there: the work is fascinating, it’s possible to improve the system, and you provide a valuable service to fellow citizens.”
Denison is glad that Carolina Law encourages students to go into the public service sector. She says that her Carolina Law education prepared her well for her career in both the public and private worlds. “The Socratic method helped me learn to think on my feet,” she says. “I was on the North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation, which helped significantly with my writing. It also opened up my mind to international considerations in the law, something that’s important in trademark law.”
She stays involved with Carolina Law because of her appreciation for her education. “UNC gave me the opportunity to earn a good living and to have a fascinating career, and I want to give something back,” she says. She served on the Carolina Law Alumni Association Board of Directors from 2006 to 2011, focusing primarily on fundraising. She supports the school financially, hosts events in D.C. for visiting alumni, and hired a summer intern from Carolina Law this year. This past spring, she spoke at the law school about working at the USPTO.
While Denison loved working in the private sector, she says that it’s a privilege to be in public service. “I know that it may sound hokey, but I think that every day USPTO employees are helping people to build their American dream,” she says.