Celebrating Women’s Leadership in IP Management

Thursday, April 19, 2018
Asia IP Magazine

By Alexandra Letts, General Counsel of Anaqua

This year’s World Intellectual Property Day celebrates the important contribution women have made and continue to make to the innovation and creativity that helps shape our world.

As the World Intellectual Property Organization says in introducing the 2018 campaign: “More than ever before, women are taking up leadership roles and making their voices heard in science, technology, business and the arts.”

The same is true in IP management, where an increasing number of women are leading the way.We see this for ourselves at Anaqua, both within our own organization and amongst our fast-expanding global client community, which includes many of the world’s most innovative technology corporations and IP law firms.

To mark World IP Day, our company spoke to three such women: Alison Mortinger, Counsel, IP Law Systems and Operations at IBM, as well as our own Christine Jennings, President of Anaqua Services,and Karen Taylor, General Manager of Asia Pacific. We asked them for their views on the changing role of women in innovation and IP management and if the IP world supports and encourages women’sleadership.

When did you first become involved in IP and what drew you to it?

IBM’s Alison Mortinger developed an early awareness of IP through her father, who worked for US Steel Research. That stayed with her and, after five years as an engineer at IBM, she decided to go to law school.

“When I got my degree in 1994 and moved to the IP Law Department, I felt privileged to work with many wonderful inventors, both men and women,” Alison said.  “At the time, there were female IP attorneys at most of our sites, and, since then, there have been an increasing number of women in senior IP management roles.”

Did Alison still feel she was moving into a male-dominated sector? “Yes, I did feel like I was entering a sector where there were more men than women, but I have always felt at home in my profession, whether I was the only woman in the group or one of many.  My voice is always heard and, at IBM, I work in a corporate culture of respect.”

Anaqua’s Christine Jennings first became involved in IP by chance when she joined an IP law firm with an African focus in 1992. “There were few women in senior IP positions,” Christine recalled, “but I remember attending an ITMA conference where Katrina Burchell was presenting. Katrina was then Head of Trademarks at Unilever. She really captivated the audience with both her presenting skills and also her deep knowledge of IP. She was impressive.

“IP was certainly a male-dominated sector at the time. However, the managing partner was inspirational and acted as a mentor to me. I have him to thank for encouraging me to study for my law degree and for my career in IP.”

With a background in the legal information and software industry, Anaqua’s Karen Taylor made the switch to IP a few years ago because she found the hybrid of law and technology that the IP industry represents fascinating.

“I did not perceive the sector to be any more or less male-dominated than many others,” Karen said. “I knew several women IP counsels in senior roles, particularly in Asia, many of whom were managing global portfolios and thriving in the industry. Indeed, I’ve been impressed by how many women I’ve now met who are involved in IP and have been in the sector for a long time.”

How do you think women’s place/role in the world of innovation and IP has changed since you started out in the industry?

Alison Mortinger: “An increasing number of women are holding high level positions in technical companies - a prime example is IBM's CEO, Ginni Rometty.  Another is the General Counsel for IBM, Michelle Browdy, who is a member of the US Patent Bar.

“As more women take these highly visible roles, it promotes a more inclusive environment for everyone at all levels of the industry. Women bring the view of half the world's population to the process of innovation. Their impact is to ensure our technology benefits all of society and considers the needs of everyone.”

Karen Taylor: “Any company with a genuine focus on innovation needs to take advantage of their full talent base, including women. Identifying and nurturing talent is key.

“With increasing numbers of programs encouraging women in STEM and dedicated networks and events for women in law, I think women’s role in the industry will only become stronger. As participation and equality within the industry improves, hopefully we won’t requirededicated women’s events in the future. I am already encouraged by the increasing numbers of women panellists at IP industry conferences generally, their visibility and their deep expertise.”

Christine Jennings: “There are a number of women in IP events now, which is positive recognition of the role of women in the industry; but you could argue that the fact we need women-only dedicated events confirms we still have a way to go from an equality perspective.

“I now see many more women in key roles, which is encouraging, and many of my close female friends hold senior positions within their IP organisations. However, it’s still not a level playing field, and I believe women have to work harder to reach and maintain their positions.I think women in this industry are supportive of each other and I’m really proud of our constant determination, which we need to succeed!” 

Do you feel that the IP industry supports and encourages the participation of women? How could things be improved?  

Alison Mortinger: “I think the IP system itself is gender agnostic, but, from a broader perspective, the focus should be on getting more women into the technical pipeline. I am a strong supporter of outreach to young women in middle school and high school. I have participated in Engineers’ Week by going to middle schools to talk about my experiences as an engineer and patent attorney, and help the students be an engineer for a day with group design challenges. It's very rewarding.  Additionally, courses in the basics of IP should be widely offered as part of undergraduate studies.

“In both of these efforts, it very much helps to have women lead and serve as role models. If anyone has a daughter who has technical leanings, I'll be happy to talk about careers in engineering and IP with her!”

This sentiment is very fitting for World IP Day, with WIPO saying: “The time is ripe to reflect on ways to ensure that increasing numbers of women and girls across the globe engage in innovation and creativity, and why this is so important.”