In-house perspectives on diversity in the trademark industry: “All of us in this field need to do more”

The theme of today’s World Intellectual Property Day is ‘Powering change: Women in innovation and creativity’. The celebration is designed to specifically recognise the brilliance, ingenuity, curiosity and courage of the women who are driving change in our world and shaping our common future.

To explore the theme in more detail, and gain a trademark industry perspective, we invited a number of the industry’s leading lights to share their reflections on both the theme and diversity in the trademark field, and consider whether the community could do more to support innovative and creative women. We also invited them to identify individuals that exemplify the qualities being championed today.

In this first part, we present the in-house perspective.

“We must evolve, so future generations of makers have it better”

As has been true since time immemorial, women around the globe are innovating and creating to the enrichment of their communities and growth of our marketplaces. And today, in many ways that have not always been possible, women can realize professional and economic rewards for those contributions. We’ve made many binary changes from ‘women can’t’ to ‘women can’, and that’s a necessary step towards equality. But the overwhelming weight of research is clear: it’s still entirely too difficult for women to actually realise the promise of fair opportunity.

In the US, we’re seeing the evidence across the pipeline. Over the last three decades, the number of women studying in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is trending down. Women are hired in fewer numbers in technical roles and leave at a higher rate than men. Women entrepreneurs are less likely to be funded. Women are underrepresented in executive corporate positions and boards, with wide margins between reality and proportional representation.

The legal industry mirrors the equality shortfall. Women attend law school at the same rate as men, but over time are less present in the profession and reflect far less than half of leadership roles in firms, the judiciary, and companies. Across the board, data for women of colour consistently indicates even wider disparities. As we celebrate women’s creativity and innovation, we would be remiss to not acknowledge the unfair challenge visionary and inspiring women have sharing their gifts. We must evolve, so future generations of makers have it better.

Makalika Naholowaa is a trademark attorney at Microsoft Corporation, based in Redmond, Washington

“I feel positive that as an industry we’re heading in the right direction”

I started my legal career at CMS Cameron McKenna and felt the gender diversity mix in IP was pretty good. There were many positive female role models and I never personally saw it as a blocker to progress. Since moving in house into the tech industry (first to Skype, then Microsoft and now King) it is clear that there’s a lot more to be done to achieve gender diversity and inclusion, especially in the technical roles and at the senior levels. In a creative industry like games and entertainment, diversity is key. At King, I have seen plenty of green shoots and a real desire to make a positive change. Last year, my partner and I took advantage of the new shared parental leave policies and I now try to recommend it to as many people as I can! I think gender inclusiveness around childcare is a big part of the puzzle. I’m pleased to say that since then a couple of the men in my team are also doing so – progress can often seem slow, but I feel positive that as an industry we’re heading in the right direction.

Susie Harris is chief legal officer at King, based in London

“Just last week, I was asked if the women with IP management positions already had families”

I ended up in trademarks by chance. My early legal career took place in vastly different areas: international law and international organisations. However, when I joined IP, I immediately noticed the many women working in the trademark field. At least in my first job, at the Swiss Federal Institute, women were leading trademark related functions and diversity existed. Also during my time as an in-house counsel, women have surrounded me throughout my different roles - we even sometimes wished to have more male colleagues to achieve better diversity! Working in trademarks has exposed me to many cultures and at Novartis we are a culturally very diverse team: we have more than 10 nationalities, speak a whole lot of languages and come from very diverse backgrounds. The number of women in the patent area is much smaller though - I wish that in the future many women will find their way to this area and will embrace scientific studies to get there.

Now do I believe women have equal chances? Many of the law firms we work with have very few or no female partners; becoming a partner still appears to pose a challenge. Just last week, I was asked if all of the women with management positions within IP in our company already had families or not yet. Do people really think that women can only get to this level if they have no children or if they are of a certain age? I wonder… I personally do not believe so and I am happy to see younger women managing their careers more consciously and from early on. In addition, I see my generation realising that there are more doors to open, and that we need to actively support women to help them succeed.

Another glass ceiling to break: trademark lawyers can be excellent leaders and certainly are capable of leading an IP function. The other way around seems to be an easy win, as many patent attorneys also manage the trademark function - in both private practice and in-house. I wish for us all that the best leaders are chosen, allowing us to continue to support our clients in the best way possible, and thereby fostering innovation!

Myrtha Hurtado Rivas is global head trademarks & domain names at Novartis International AG, based in Switzerland

“All of us in this field need to do more and often”

When asked to write this article about diversity I was a bit stumped. What could I say that wouldn’t offend? How does one talk about the silent elephant in the room? Then two things came to mind 1) formal training for non-attorneys is still extremely rare in 2018, and 2) opportunities are limited for people of color. We in IP are often still trained on the job, filling vacancies that occur because it’s hard to find qualified people. The problem is many people of colour have no idea what intellectual property is. So, when these opportunities arise often we’re not chosen or don’t volunteer. More likely, we’re not in the inner circle to even be considered for the position or know that it exists. Bar associations and other trade associations often have programs to recruit or support attorneys of colour. Furthermore, there are often opportunities for attorneys to go into high schools and colleges to speak to students about career opportunities in the legal field. Not so with TMA’s. If successful TMA’s don’t reach out to others, then it simply doesn’t happen. This must change. All of us in this field need to do more and often.

So, I know that I have had unique opportunities and I can thank Robin Bren of Muncy, Geissler, Olds & Lowe PC. I met Robin at my first job and she lives and works by the theme “Powering change: Women in Innovation and Creativity”. Robin started her career at a time when the field was predominantly white male and a tough environment to work in. Yet she mentored attorneys and TMAs, always providing words of wisdom and out of the box thinking advice. She made us believe in ourselves. She consistently challenged us to soar above the status quo, just like she did. No matter when I see her or how much time has passed, she always wants to know what you are doing for yourself and others. Because of her mentorship, I’ve tried to emulate her in being a role model and mentor to my colleagues, always being there to lend a hand or a shoulder. Robin Bren is my ‘Shero’ and role model for powering change. We should all be like her – then truly things will change.

Deborah A Hampton is corporate trademark specialist, trademark team lead at The Chemours Company, based in Wilmington, Delaware

“The trademark field has many shining lights who have adopted an inclusive approach”

My involvement in the intellectual property legal field is reaching its twentieth anniversary this year, commencing with my enrolment as a law student at the George Washington University Law School. I have worn many hats in the trademark industry, gaining law firm experience as a trademark associate at an intellectual property boutique and in-house counsel experience as both a trademark specialist and a generalist for brand-focused companies. Over these two decades, I have realized that the trademark field attracts people with a passion for the arts and technology, and who often have creative personal pursuits.

Trademark people are innately interested in understanding why certain brands and branding appeal to consumers and in protecting client innovation in this era of global e-commerce and digital marketing. These qualities, shared by professionals across the trademark field, in my view, have created a legal community populated by creative thought leaders who seek to include diverse opinions and backgrounds on their legal teams. Creative thinkers are problem solvers and the trademark field has many shining lights who have adopted an inclusive approach amongst their ranks. Personally, I am appreciative that my career path within the trademark field has been supported by both men and women. We should continue to foster diversity amongst our ranks, striving to be a model of diversity for all legal fields.

Jessica E Cardon is senior counsel at Quality King Distributors, based in New York

“It is women who will continue to shape the future system”

A century ago China went through an industrial revolution, and today it is seeking to become a world hub for innovation, changing from ‘made in China’ to ‘created in China’. Women were central to both, and yet they have transformed from factory workers to the new intellectual working and middle class, inheriting the experience, patience, diligence and creativity of their foremothers. Women are now more the norm than the exception in all modern social activities, including intellectual property, and this is even more so in trademark practice in terms of participating numbers and the substantial roles held in various positions. Women therefore play an integral role in shaping the modern trademark law and system in China. But there is always more that the industry can do to help further these developments.

The lack of regulations in trademark practice make it more like a business testing field than a professional arena. In Great Britain and Canada, in order to practice, trademark practitioners are required to obtain a license, recognising it as a professional career. The concept of trademark agent is even not officially recognized as a career title in China, and there is always confusion about whether it is a career path or not. Further to that, low motivation for creation and innovation, and the still low public awareness of the value of brands and IP in general, scarcely provides a sense of purpose. We expect more lobbying, education and support from the government.

It is also common that women are overloaded with work, and tend to spend longer hours in the office, which goes against a balanced family and personal life. Can we pin our hopes on improvements in technology and artificial intelligence facilitating a more e-friendly working environment and to enable more constructive use of time? Without question, for the next few decades women will continue to play a key role in trademark world and it is women who will continue to shape the future system. So let’s wait and see.

Christy Qingtao Chen is senior IP Counsel at AkzoNobel, based in Shanghai.

To read the perspectives of leading law firm practitioners, click here.

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