Five minutes with … Charlene Azema, Knobbe Martens
Each week Managing IP speaks to a different IP practitioner about their life and career
Welcome to the latest instalment of Managing IP’s ‘Five minutes with’ series, where we learn more about IP practitioners on a personal as well as a professional level. This time we have Charlene Azema, partner at Knobbe Martens in Orange County, California.
Someone asks you at a party what you do for a living. What do you say?
I help companies protect and enforce their brands, including their trademarks and copyrights. That can mean working with businesses to clear new trademarks, preparing strategies for protecting their rights, and helping companies with all aspects of their global IP strategy.
Talk us through a typical working day.
What I find exciting about my work is that there is no such thing as a “typical” day.
I support clients across the full spectrum of their IP strategy. I field calls from marketing departments, CEOs, and in-house counsel on new brand initiatives. I also think how to tackle infringing and counterfeit products, dig into client sales information, negotiate agreements and licences, draft arguments in response to trademark refusals, and support clients through acquisitions.
Ours is a multi-layered practice, which means that every day looks very different from the previous one. I am constantly learning and developing new skills.
What are you working on at the moment?
All of the above and more! I am fortunate that I get to work with companies at all stages of growth, from start-ups to well-established companies. That gives me the opportunity to have a broad and varied practice that addresses the unique needs of companies at each of these phases.
For instance, just this morning I was on a call with the marketing chief of a client that is looking to expand internationally and guided them through their global trademark protection strategy. By mid-morning, I was advising a fashion client on clearing a new patchwork design, and in the afternoon I was working with a multinational client on building their customs recordation and enforcement protocol for a new line of products.
Does one big piece of work usually take priority or are you juggling multiple things?
Typically, I juggle different projects throughout the day. This means I get to work with multiple clients and attorney teams across the firm. It also means I have to be very organised and flexible because no one day is predictable.
What is the most exciting aspect of your role and what is the most stressful?
The most enjoyable part is helping clients grow. I have the opportunity to work side-by-side with clients and their business teams on development. Seeing my clients’ brands out in the marketplace is so fun – I often remark "Hey! I worked on that". It shows the real-world impact of the work I do.
Being a lawyer is stressful, in part because clients rely on your advice, to the extent it affects decisions they make when launching a new brand. It’s somewhat ironic that one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a lawyer – getting the questions from clients that really stretch my mind and that require deep analysis and strategy – also often ends up being the most stressful.
Tell us the key characteristics that make a successful IP lawyer/professional.
A successful IP lawyer is one that can translate their legal knowledge and experience into something practical for businesses to use. Being able to strip away the legalese and get to the bottom line is a skill that grows with experience, but being able to see the forest through the trees for your clients is something that they will appreciate time and time again.
What is the most common misconception about IP?
That IP is all patents. It’s also trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, domain names, and even touches on advertising and marketing … the world of IP encompasses so much more!
What or who inspires you?
I gather inspiration from so many people. My husband has always been my number one fan, encouraging me to take the extra leap, and I draw inspiration from his confidence in me.
I see my kids watching and learning from me, which inspires me to be a strong role model for them. Most importantly, I’m learning to draw inspiration from myself to make sure that I’m never the one weighing myself down or stopping myself from growing.
If you weren’t in IP, what would you be doing?
I’d likely be working in a business role such as marketing or operations, or as an early childhood educator.
Any advice you would give your younger self?
In college, I was determined to go to medical school, and where I ended up couldn’t be farther away from my initial direction. I’d tell myself: “You’re doing it right, there’s no one path, and have more faith in yourself!”