The Chemours Company FC, LLC
"Know the business, be practical and engage with outstanding local counsel"
Can you tell us a little about your professional journey to date, and how your career in trademarks came about?
Intellectual property found me, I did not find it. After graduating from my paralegal programme, my CV landed on the desk of a trademark attorney. I interviewed with her and, one hour later, she offered me the position as a trademark paralegal. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it turned out to be the best decision of my life as I have worked in intellectual property for my entire career. It is in my blood and I live and breathe it every day. My family jokes that I am not fun to shop with because I always wind up providing tutorials on trademarks, trade dress and copyright on items in stores.
As a non-attorney, I have been fortunate to land roles that have allowed me to be deeply involved in policy making and important strategic decisions. I have sat at the table with executive leadership – an opportunity not given to many non-attorneys. Because of my tenacity and confidence, I have managed some of the most famous brands in the world.
In addition to my determination to do and be more, I attribute much of my career success to the attorneys that I have worked with. They recognised that, as a non-attorney, it was acceptable to give me meaty and substantive work, which would not lead to the unauthorised practice of law. They also appreciated my eagerness and enthusiasm to learn and expand my expertise. So, I was encouraged to keep learning and honing my craft.
The potential of paralegals often goes unrealised. What advice would you give to those seeking a wider trademark remit than they are currently empowered for?
You must believe in yourself and have the courage to ask and, if necessary, demand a seat at the table. If you do not ask, it will not happen. You must also be prepared to invest in yourself financially. If your employer will not pay for education, then pay for it yourself. I have paid to attend seminars and conferences because I believed that the client and I were worth it. Do not limit yourself! Find good mentors and ask for more challenging work. Finally, get active in trade associations as there are opportunities at all levels to grow, lead and be involved.
What is the biggest career challenge that you have faced, and what can others learn from how you overcame it?
A trusted colleague and friend asked me to work for him because he needed help managing his practice. The move was a disaster because – although he had great employees – he turned out to be a dictator and a tyrant, with a terrible management style. The experience left me vulnerable, insecure and full of self-doubt. While discussing the situation with my mentor, he reminded me that I was previously responsible for making multi-million dollar decisions and had never gotten one wrong. Hearing that was an eye opener for me. It led me back to doing the best work that I could. I was very honest with the trademark community in acknowledging that I had stumbled but that I had learned from the experience. When you face your demons publicly – and celebrate the highs and lows – you can only grow from adversity.
When seeking to manage an international trademark portfolio, what are the ultimate keys to success?
Know the business, be practical, engage with outstanding local counsel and spend the clients’ money like you would spend your own – very carefully!
If you could make one change to the trademark world what would it be?
The harmonisation of rules and practice is my dream. The overall concept of trademark protection and enforcement will not change. However, different requirements globally are cumbersome, expensive and time consuming. The TM5 consortium of trademark offices is working hard on this subject. It would be great if others joined in too.
The icing on the cake would be the authorisation of trademark agents in the United States. We have patent agents who are trained and the same thing could be done for non-attorney trademark agents.
Deborah A Hampton
Senior Trademark and Copyright Programme Manager
Deborah A Hampton is the senior trademark and copyright programme manager for The Chemours Company FC, LLC. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a BA in political science. Ms Hampton also received an American Bar Association-approved paralegal certificate from the Adelphi University paralegal programme. She is responsible for managing Chemours’ trademark, copyright and trade dress portfolio. Her major focus and area of expertise is the protection and enforcement of the company’s brands.
Click here to see her WTR 300 2019 profile.