The leading women in intellectual property
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The leading women in intellectual property


Jennifer Ruther introduces the 2016 IP STARS list of the top 250 women in IP, as compiled by our researchers


Welcome to the 2016 edition of the Managing Intellectual Property – IP STARS list of the Top 250 Women in IP, the definitive guide to the world’s leading female IP practitioners. Since its inception, this list has been dedicated to the recognition of accomplished female IP practitioners in the United States. This year’s addition takes into consideration female IP practitioners from across the globe to produce an internationally oriented review of the world’s top female IP practitioners.

Our research process for the list of the world’s top 250 women IP practitioners spanned four months – from November 2015 to February 2016. The research ­comprised interviews and surveys. Among those interviewed, a small number was chosen to be included in the final list. Together, they represent every major area of IP legal work, including trade mark, copyright and patent litigation, prosecution and portfolio management and advice as well as trade secret litigation, and their clients range in size and prominence from internationally recognised companies to start-ups.

Meanwhile, female IP practitioners from the United States continue to receive high accolades for their work in the field of intellectual property. Three women – Erika Arner, Lisa Kobialka, and Natalie Hanlon-Leh – were recognised as Outstanding IP Litigators of the Year at the latest awards ceremony for Managing ­Intellectual Property, and a record 14 women were shortlisted for an individual achievement award.

Women represent some of the most talented and experienced legal practitioners in the world, and their contributions to the field of IP rights can be seen in their part in securing leading judgments throughout the globe. In France, for example, Isabelle LeRoux has taken charge of a precedent-setting case for client Coca-Cola in a copyright infringement matter, and in Finland, Kukka Tommila is defending Arla in a matter which in which an entity’s ability to register a generic term as a trade mark is in question. This list attempts to recognise contributions such as these and to give these capable practitioners the acknowledgement they deserve.

In an era of globalisation the field of intellectual property grows more and more complex with each year. As commercial and governmental institutions seek to extend their influence beyond individual country borders, IP rights acquire an international dimension and the same legal professionals who once confined their practices to the national level are now called upon to defend IP rights of an increasingly cosmopolitan client base. These professionals, hailing from a wide assortment of countries, are the stars of the global IP regime.

The journey to becoming a super star in this field consists of different routes depending on the individual. Some plan the trajectory of their careers from an early age, and others find themselves in the field one day, almost as if by chance. To find out more about this journey, we decided to ask some of the leading women in the field directly. Three of the selected top 250 women in IP agreed to speak with us about their individual practices, their experiences as women in their field, and how globalisation has affected their lives and their work.

Litigator at heart

Allyson Whyte Nowak, a patent and trade secrets specialist and a "litigator at heart" who acted for Pfizer against Apotex in a damages action on the drug atorvastatin, reports that she was drawn to IP because she was interested in helping clients with a "hard-fought" key aspect of their business. "Giving [clients] strategic advice," she says, "it really feels like you're adding value."

Nowak observes that "if there was an area of practice where I see females doing really well, it is in IP." Her own firm Norton Rose Fulbright has a tradition of female leaders in the IP field. Because of her role-models, both within her firm and in the wider IP bar, Nowak says that "it has never seemed… that there were any limits to what [I] could do within the IP profession as a female".

Furthermore, Nowak is aware of her firm's position within the larger context of the global IP regime. She observes that globalisation has had a large impact on her personal practice as well as on her firm. "We've always seen IP rights as being multijurisdictional: it is rare that anyone holds a patent just in Canada," she comments. "We've always been tied to … the impact of IP rights in Canada on a company's broader IP rights … I think our practice has always had an eye on the bigger, global trends and events."

The perfect fit

Focusing her practice primarily on international patent litigation, Christine Kanz began her career in IP when she was still studying at university. She worked as an intern at a car manufacturer, and two years later, she realised that there was a "whole area of patent law, which combined my interest in natural science with what [she] had studied". She was drawn to it "because it was law, but it also had an element [of] creativity. It was the perfect fit for me".

When it comes to globalisation, Kanz affirms that not only her practice but the practice of her wider firm has felt the effects. "We have very few clients that only operate on a national basis any longer," she comments. "Most of our clients now have an international presence, and their disputes and their problems are usually not limited to Germany." This is a change, she mentions, compared to how it was 20 years ago, when many clients dealt exclusively within the borders of particular countries.

We can have it all!

AWA Asia's CEO Ai-Leen Lim marvels at the trajectory of her career. She was an examiner and hearing officer when she was offered an opportunity to help the Singapore government with work regarding compliance with the TRIPs Agreement. From there, she remarks, she was hooked: "I never thought it nor planned it, but here I am."

In Lim's view, a number of trends in the IP market and in the world at large serve to improve the professional and personal lives of female IP practitioners. The digitisation of the workplace, for example, and the ability of women to work from home, have enabled women to remain active in the work force, even after pregnancy. "If we prioritize and balance matters sensibly and intelligently," she says, "we can create for ourselves a life that is happy and fulfilling!"

But there are still areas, Lim argues, in which progress is needed. Though Lim herself has access to a progressive maternity programme at her firm, some women do not enjoy the privilege of such policies. "I know of many women in my position from less-enlightened firms," she says, "who, for example, would keep their pregnancy secret until very late." In this area in particular, women still struggle.

Lim also speaks to the unique position of IP practitioners in modern Asia. "In the beginning when I started my practice," she recounts, "those of us in Asia were always a little bit in awe of all things foreign because of what we read or what we saw on TV, but now, with the openness of the internet, the availability of information, and the fact that the world is a smaller place ... knowledge is shared across the globe." This exchange of information, she suggests, helped the region mature. "Women are feeling more confident on the world stage," she comments, "and, in part, this is due to … many of us being open to Western influence, picking and choosing those aspects that suit us in our practice, in our lives, and in the top companies."


All of our interviewees were asked if they might have any words of wisdom for young, female IP practitioners about how to kick start their career. In this, we received a single consistent answer: find mentorship. When asked, Kanz immediately responded: "Find a good mentor." Nowak suggested that young, female practitioners should "learn from as many styles and practices of your senior practitioners as possible, because it's really that experience that allows you to bring the right judgement". And Lim similarly emphasised the importance of finding a role model: "It would be good if you could find a mentor … so that [you] have somebody pointing [you] you in the right direction … I benefited from very kind and good mentors in my life who have pointed me in the right direction."

In addition to mentoring, however, Kanz insists that women should invest their time in networking. Being smart and capable is not enough, she says, and young professionals do not necessarily realise that many successful attorneys have built their careers on networking. "I would strongly advise young women to work on that just as much as they work on their briefs and on the legal part of their work," she remarks.

Around the world, women IP practitioners remain optimistic. As reported by our interviewees, women's position within the work force continues to improve, and there seems to be no limit to what they can achieve.








Allyson Whyte

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