When IP attorney John Kenney isn’t protecting his clients’ inventions, he’s coming up with his own
Published in 2007 Oklahoma Super Lawyers magazine
By Andy Steiner on November 9, 2007
When people hear that IP litigation attorney John Kenney is an inventor with four patents to his name, they’re often surprised. Somehow, the buttoned-down former engineer just doesn’t fit the stereotype.
“Usually when people think of an inventor, they imagine a wacky guy with wild hair,” says Kenney, a shareholder at the Oklahoma City law firm McAfee & Taft. “I’m known as a conservative—or maybe careful—person, but I like to think that I see innovative solutions to problems and that makes me good at inventing.”
In 1971, Kenney graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in engineering. He worked for a few years as an engineer (“Just long enough to have a lifelong interest in things that are technical,” he says), and then, with the encouragement of his younger brother, took the LSAT.
“I had always thought I’d go and get an MBA,” Kenney says. But he did extremely well on his LSAT, which wasn’t that big of a surprise. “What I’d learned from taking the test was that the logic an engineer uses is the same sort of logic a lawyer uses. So it was like I’d already had a couple of years of law school.” Eventually, both Kenney and his brother went on to earn their juris doctors from the University of Oklahoma School of Law, and in 1975 they became the first pair of brothers to graduate in the same class.
Although Kenney went to work for a firm in Houston, he and his wife—both Oklahoma natives—had their sights set on returning home to raise their children. By 1981, they’d made it back to Oklahoma City, where he became a shareholder at McAfee & Taft.
Working to help inventors protect their intellectual property rights gets Kenney’s creative juices flowing.
“I’d always wanted to be an inventor, but I thought I didn’t have the time,” he says. “Finally I decided I wasn’t getting any younger and I’d have to take the time.”
Kenney’s first patent was for a retractable power-cord apparatus.
“If you’ve got a lot of power tools,” he explains, “the cords are always everywhere. You could buy a cord reel and hook your tools up and hang them from the ceiling, but that’s awkward. I thought it would be a good idea to have a reel permanently wired in your electrical system so you could hook up your tool and it would always be ready to go.”
From power tools, Kenney moved to virtual shopping. In 1997, he and a partner filed a patent application for a Web interface that allows shoppers to navigate and purchase items from a realistic-looking Web “store,” rather than the more static shopping experience most online customers were used to. The patent was issued to Kenney and his organization, Real Group, in 2000.
“Shortly after we got the patent the dot-com bust hit,” Kenney says. “We decided to put the idea on the shelf and wait for things to develop.”
Lately, Kenney has decided to dust off the interface, offering the technology so restaurants can preview entrees for diners. “You could go in and see images of a real restaurant and see images of a menu that you could order from,” he explains.
Now that Kenney has figured out how to be both an attorney and an inventor, the ideas just keep coming. Inventing is fun, he says, and the motivation it inspires in him makes him an even better attorney.
And who knows? Someday Kenney might invent a product that nobody can live without.
“Right now, my best invention ever is on file at the patent office,” he says. “I can’t talk about it yet, but I think it’s the home-run solution.”
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