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Five minutes with … Christopher Young, MinterEllisonRuddWatts

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Each week Managing IP speaks to a different IP lawyer about their life and career

Welcome to the latest instalment of Managing IP’s ‘Five minutes with’ series, where we learn more about IP lawyers on a personal as well as a professional level. This time we have Christopher Young, partner at MinterEllison in Auckland.

Someone asks you at a party what you do for a living. What do you say?

I’m a lawyer at a large corporate law firm specialising in intellectual property with a focus on brand strategy, IP and transactions, and film.

Talk us through a typical working day.

My day is dictated a little by my practice, which has a strong international focus, so I usually start at home around 6.30am going through the email traffic overnight from the northern hemisphere, before heading into the office and touching base with my team. I value a catch up over coffee with my IP partner and then head into a range of meetings, and calls with clients.

There is always a range of management things to attend to and I serve on a range of our firm’s board committees, including equality, diversity, and inclusion, and two of our international committees, so there is usually work of that nature.

I try to fit in a session at the gym before lunch a few days a week. A lot of our clients’ businesses are Trans-Tasman, and with Australia a couple of hours behind, there is often a surge of work and calls late afternoon/early evening. I’ll often fit in some business development work with a drink or dinner with clients in the evening. Later in the evening, northern hemisphere email traffic starts so I’ll deal with urgent queries and try to ensure the team is set up with inbound work for the next morning before retiring for the evening.

What is usually guaranteed is that the plan for the day will be changed as unexpected urgent work will take priority. 

What are you working on at the moment?

My practice is eclectic with a wide range of work. Handling the IP aspects of transactions is a key part of my practice and as usual, we have a range of deals on the go. This is coupled with a wide range of branding work, including strategy for some of our local clients, handling their IP internationally as many have export-based businesses, through to enforcement and oppositions.

I also handle a lot of inbound trademark work for international businesses operating in New Zealand and Australia. We are always handling a range of disputes, negotiations, and strategic advisory work.

Indeed, today after writing this I am joining a call to decide whether to start an injunction for a client over a brand issue.

Does one big piece of work usually take priority or are you juggling multiple things?

Often there will be one or more large transactions that are IP-intensive and can dominate work over a period of weeks, but part of the skill of managing a practice like this is to keep everything running in parallel, as there is always a wide range of matters ongoing that need to be attended to.

What is the most exciting aspect of your role and what is the most stressful?

For me, handling complex IP aspects of large transactions is a sweet spot, and although I love this work it is probably one of the most stressful, with deal-driven timing imperative. I also have a love of brand strategy and the range of jobs that come into that area. I also have a part of my practice dedicated to small and medium-sized enterprises and start-up businesses, which means I am often working with the owner or CEO directly – this is a part of my practice I love.

Tell us the key characteristics that make a successful IP lawyer.

For my type of practice, understanding your clients’ businesses is critical, as is the ability to distil what can often be a complex legal position down to pragmatic and commercial advice, factoring in other legal areas that impact. Swift and comprehensive turnaround of work, and being available for your clients is critical, as is the ability to think laterally where the obvious position may not work.

What is the most common misconception about IP?

For many who are not in the IP world they think IP means patents, when the reality is that for numerous businesses, core IP of importance to their business won’t be patents but is the full range of IP from know-how to copyright, confidential information, and brands. It’s important to get clients to understand the importance of this matrix and how to protect it.

What or who inspires you?

Many different things inspire me, but a common theme is people that are passionate about what they do, with a positive attitude. I also love good design across a wide range of areas, from interiors and architecture to fashion, cars, and boats.

If you weren’t an IP lawyer, what would you be doing?

When I joined the firm I was required to do all the usual psychological tests for partners - my score was considered unusual for a lawyer and one more typical of a CEO. So I'd be in business of some sort which is always an interest, otherwise skiing (one of my loves in life).

Any advice you would give your younger self?

Trust your instincts and understand that you will make mistakes.

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