'Women and IP: is everything rosy in here or is the glass ceiling tinted pink?’ – IP Osgoode takes the lead in addressing gender issues in the IP field

On Friday, November 7, IP Osgoode, the Institute For Feminist Legal Studies, and Putting Theory To Practice (An International Speakers Series At Osgoode Hall Law School) held a unique event: a roundtable of numerous female leaders in the IP field discussed and reflected on the opportunities and challenges that women face in this area of the law.

The panel consisted of Susan Abramovitch (Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP), Professor Ann Bartow (University of South Carolina), Darlene H. Carreau (Trade-marks Opposition Board), May Cheng (Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP), Professor Carys Craig (Osgoode Hall Law School), Virginia H.L. Jones (Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association), Sangeetha Punniyamoorthy (Dimock Stratton LLP) and Pascale Chapdelaine (PhD candidate, Osgoode Hall Law School). The Honourable Justice Weiler from the Ontario Court of Appeal was also able to join the discussion and provide her perspective from the bench.

As a young woman entering the legal profession and interested in IP, I realized that doing well in law school is only one of my worries. As each panelist spoke about her experiences, I discerned several dimensions of a trend that could be simply defined as follows: the IP field is male-dominated.

The first dimension of this trend is that more men than women practice IP. This is particularly the case in patent law. I am surprised by this proposition since more than 50% of law school students are female. One explanation given for this disparity is that men are more likely to have a science undergraduate degree, which is still considered a crucial requirement for those interested in patents or the so-called ‘hard IP’. As a result, women ch0ose to practice the ‘soft IP’ such as trademarks and copyrights, where a science degree is recommended but not required. Most of the panelists shared the view that the ‘science background requirement’ is a myth that is unnecessarily perpetuated. Ann Bartow, a US professor at the University of South Carolina, argued that other areas of the law entail a good grasp of some sciences. For example, medical malpractice requires an intimate understanding of sciences such as biology, chemistry, etc. Yet, a science degree is not required in order to practice in this field. The question then remains: why is a science background so important for patent law?

Another dimension of the ‘IP male-domination’ trend is the fact that fewer women occupy higher positions in private practice. For example, one panelist noted that although 50% of the associates in her firm were women, only 20% of the partners were female. Interestingly, this trend is sometimes reversed in the government sector. For example, in the Trade-marks Opposition Board out of the 9 members, only 3 are male. One possible explanation for this divergence is that the government is more conscious of creating express mechanisms to facilitate gender equality.

A third dimension of the ‘IP male-domination’ trend is that women’s promotion to higher positions is more significantly affected by the decision to have children in comparison to that of their male colleagues. Most panelists agreed that the length of maternal leave is negatively correlated with the opportunity for a woman to be promoted. Furthermore, women need more flexible work schedules and arrangements to accommodate the needs of young children.

The last dimension of the ‘IP male-domination’ trend that was discussed was that while many women might not experience gender discrimination in getting clients or work from partners, women may lose opportunities due to differences in ‘comfort level’ between male partners and female associates. Male partners, in general, may feel more comfortable inviting males rather than females to out-of-office activities such as golf or a drink after work. Without that ‘comfort level’, women lose the invaluable opportunity to get further mentoring from senior partners in an out-of-office setting.

In conclusion, women face many challenges in the IP profession. The panelists felt that although much remains to be done, there have been many positive developments for the past 20 years. Part of solving these challenges includes the ability of women to voice their concerns. Once their voices are out there, it is easier to get the relevant parties involved and move towards change. Thus panels such as the one organized by IP Osgoode remain crucial for voicing important issues in the search for an appropriate solution.

  1. I attended the session on gender issues in IP last week and commend the organizers for putting together such a stimulating panel. I continue to mull over what I heard and there were a few comments I wanted to share.

    I think there is a distinction between a lawyer working outside private practice in a setting where the “work” is still very much law and legal advice and a lawyer working in a business or association setting where the connection to legal work is much more tenuous. As time passes, it is challenging for someone to return to private practice from the former and it is nearly impossible to return to private practice from the latter. A career change may be permanent and not by choice.

    Most of the non-private practice members of the panel fell into the first category. It was gratifying to hear that their career elections were not just to escape the demands of private practice to accommodate family. All had met personal needs with career growth alternatives.
    It would seem to me that this is a challenge to the Law Society’s objective to have the proportion of women graduating in law reflected in all levels of the practicing bar. The emphasis has been on retention. Private practice has a long way to go. Is it unrealistic to believe that law as a business can become fully altruistic in its approach to women? There is a cost – bluntly – a law firm with 20% women associates and partners will be less impacted by maternity and lifestyle challenges than a law firm with 50% women. Someone commented that certain practices e.g. litigation are less capable of absorbing the absences of key participants. Sensitivities around partner compensation aligned with client development, client retention, billable hours, firm profile – all of which require continuity of presence – would seem difficult to address. Similar issues challenge the corporate sector. It is a fair comment that the government may be more committed to addressing gender issues but government is also less driven by revenue targets and less accountable to a mobile client base – corporate clients today expect continuity.

    Perhaps another prong of the Law Society’s strategy should be to address the issues around a woman’s return to private practice so that choices made for relatively short term reasons do not completely define the career possibilities.

    The session did make very clear that IP continues to be a practice area that permits unique options in private practice as well as many viable legal and industry alternatives.

    To add to the summary, other suggestions that I “heard” at the session for women graduates starting their legal careers were:
    • Develop an expertise that makes you stand out and be less dispensable
    • Align your plans for a family with milestones in your career such as partnership in private practice or tenure in academia
    • Be flexible on duration of the maternity leave (and, I might add, the number)
    • Acknowledge the challenges that the commitment to family puts on a practice (or employer) and help work towards solutions for the need i.e. don’t sit back and expect others to solve your problems for you
    • Manage your expectations to achieve balance and this may mean the work has priority at times and the family at others. The two may not co-exist peacefully.

    It was refreshing to hear women speak of their careers as a complement to family and/or family as a complement to their careers and their empowerment in working through their challenges.

    Who am I?

    I left private practice after several years to enter the publishing world. At the time it didn’t seem like I was leaving the law as I headed into legal publishing but the reality is that I have spent the last 20 plus years in business not law, in executive roles and as a consultant on strategic projects.

    I am involved in copyright issues and policy as Chair of the Intellectual Property Committee with Canadian Publisher’ Council and am now part way through an LL.M. in Intellectual Property. As part of this re-acquaintance with the law I have been assessing the feasibility of shifting my career back into a more “legal” focus.

  2. Catherine,
    you make an excellent point that the law in private practice is business and accommodating women concerns might be really challenging. Client retention do require some continuity, which could be quite difficult when a lawyer needs to take a maternal leave. Business is business and when we talk about billable hours and securing the larger share of the market, the professional who could contribute to that wins. In this respect, you might be right that law firms could not become fully altruistic in its approach to women. On the other hand, if as a society we are committed to equality in all dimensions of our life then the solution could be worked despite the demands of the business world. It might be fair to say that if left to the business world itself, a solution might never come. However, given that the law profession is highly regulated, it seems that regulations enacted by the Law Society could provide a viable resolution.

  3. Anna,
    You raise and question the reasoning behind the science degree requirement in patent law and its relationship to this male dominated legal field. I thought I’d share my experiences in relation to this area of concern. I’m a male computer science graduate, along with about 90% of my class, and 80% of engineering. In prosecuting patents before the USPTO and CIPO this past summer I was asked to rely on my technical expertise daily in order to address the needs of clients – without that knowledge I would have been lost.
    The demand for a technically trained lawyer stems from several elements in my mind. First, clients applying for patents are normally highly educated in a specific field and expect the same from their lawyers. Second, applying for patents costs significant sums of money. Third, differentiating a new patent from the prior art requires a high degree of familiarity with the general state of the art. Clients, for many hundreds of dollars an hour, therefore rightly demand that their lawyers should be able to keep up with them. This means quickly understanding the technology at issue and offering key legal advice all in the same breath.
    Does one need a technical degree to do this? No. But I would argue that one will have a very difficult time prosecuting patents and keeping clients happy without a very solid understanding of the technology field in which you plan to focus. This brings up a further point, patent law is highly divided, patent lawyers practice in very narrow niches: mechanical patents, software patents, electrical patents, chemical patents and so on. Each requires a different skill set and educational background or awareness. I, for example, would never consider myself valuable in the drafting or prosecution of a chemical patent.
    I would therefore argue that the problem of a male dominated field is one inherited from divisions in the educational system at a much earlier stage – mainly undergrad. If we address or understand why hard sciences attract so few women to begin with we’ll be able to address the root cause of a male dominated patent practice.
    That said, there are many roles in IP for the non-technical individual. You mentioned the “soft” IP field such as trademarks and copyright. To this I would add litigation and in many cases general prosecution. It is in the higher and more complex reaches of patent prosecution and specifically drafting practice that technical awareness, in my mind, becomes critical.

  4. Conrad,
    Thanks for your comment. It really gives a lot of useful and important information that adds to the debate. I still think that I could become a good patent lawyer without having a science background.

    I think that a person who is passionate about a field should not be precluded from practicing in that field simply because he or she does not have a science background. You mentioned that you relied on your technical expertise to respond to clients’ needs and without that you would have been lost. I can see how not having this technical background could be a problem in the short run. For example, working for a patent firm or CIPO for a summer might be difficult if you do not have a science background. This is because there are so many things that you need to learn in a limited period of time. Having the technical expertise really allows you to pick up faster on the other important skills that you need to develop. However, over the years people learn and in the long run I do not think a science background is that relevant. After all it took you four years to finish your undergraduate degree. I do not see why a lawyer could not develop the relevant technical expertise over the years. The truth is that law is business, as Catherine mentioned. Firms or CIPO are unwilling to invest in an individual who needs extra training. If that is the rationale I understand since to survive law firms need to respond to the market demand as fast as they can with ready-to-go lawyers. However, this rationale does not support the proposition that you could not become a good patent lawyer[in the long run] without having a science background.

  5. I think you’re correct Anna. Certainly historically patent lawyers didn’t need technical degrees. The difficulty lies in the increasing complexity of patents. The first were for simple mechanic devices and that is no longer the case. In the longer term one can most certainly acquire the necessary technical skills – one never stops learning. In the short term you’re up against a presumption that a science degree is valuable. Consider what subsets of patent law you’re interested in. Chemical, electrical, mechanical? Maybe pick up an introductory text book in that field and become familiar with the basics. As a new lawyer in a firm having a niche you feel comfortable with will be important – there is much to learn as a new lawyer without having to worry about the technical side. Most importantly, learning where to look is perhaps the most important – just as it is in law school. The advantage those of us with technical degrees have is that we have the books and know where to look already.

  6. This has been a very useful and helpful discussion. I have a couple of comments on the general question of IP practice and a science background. They are really just footnotes to some of the points already made.

    1. When discussing these sorts of issues, we have to avoid the “mirror” fallacy: that only someone who is my clone or someone who has gone through the same experience as I have could possibly do what I’m doing as well as I can (and of course it goes without saying that nobody does it better). Everyone else starts off handicapped.

    This fallacy regrettably translates itself in all sorts of ways into hiring practices. It is relevant to the argument about whether or not a science or engineering degree is necessary, desirable or neutral as a qualification for a particular job. I could add “all other things being equal” but in real life all other things rarely are. Lawyering involves a plethora of skills: legal ability, interpersonal skills, problem-solving, attention to detail, curiosity, ability to argue, negotiate and give sensible, perhaps even wise, advice. An idiot with a law degree, with or without a science degree attached, remains an idiot. If you haven’t come across any of these yet, you will. You will not find it an enlightening experience.

    2. The usefulness of a science degree depends on the job. When one wants to work as a patent attorney in-house or with a firm of patent attorneys, a science or engineering degree is almost mandatory, for many of the reasons Conrad has given. In many jurisdictions no law degree is required for this job at all, and many working in the field have no such degree. They cannot of course hold themselves out as practising lawyers. Their job is to advise on patenting, draft appropriate claims, and prosecute applications through patent offices. Since the subject matter will almost always be technical, sound technical knowledge by the patent attorney is essential. That usually comes from a science or engineering degree, sometimes at doctoral level. But if the authorities administering national patent attorney exams don’t require a science or engineering degree, and you can pass the exam, more power to you. It’s far from impossible. That said, a patent attorney firm may be reluctant to hire you: see mirror fallacy, point #1 above.

    3. There are plenty of lawyers practising in IP, including patents, who have no science degree. In the IP specialist chambers in London (UK) with which I am associated, most of the barristers – both men and women – do have such a degree, some even doctorates. (I for one don’t have any such degree; my BA is in French literature. When I did practise as a youngster in the early pleonastic era in New Zealand, I advised and litigated, inter alia, drug patent cases; the silk who led me (who later became a judge and tried all sorts of IP cases) had no science degree either, but he managed pretty well. We were well briefed by experts in the relevant science; it was no big deal. Rocket science is not always rocket science.)

    There are other signal exceptions in my chambers. One is a former LLM student of mine from a couple of decades ago. He is now one of the UK’s leading QCs, advising and litigating across the board:in patents, trade marks, copyrights, designs and ICT rights before the English and European courts and patent tribunals. His patent work covers the entire gamut from pharmaceutical to telecomm to computer and mechanical engineering cases – all leading edge. Undergraduate law was his first degree. He has no science background. Nor do some of the other barristers, at both the QC and more junior level. Their main qualifications: they are all very quick learners, very clever lawyers, and rather nice people, to boot. This picture can be extrapolated across other sets of specialist London IP chambers

    4. There is nevertheless undoubtedly a hiring bias in the IP field in many places, particularly in firms that do patent advice and litigation, towards those with a science or engineering degree. (That qualification is pretty irrelevant in most other areas of IP.) Those firms that insist on such a degree as a prerequisite may end up shooting themselves in the foot. They will miss out on some very fine potential talent. The smartest firms and corporations look at the whole person and her or his talents, and what the person will bring to their organization.

    5. Many Canadian judges who try patent cases have no science degree either. Their overall record does not look any better or worse than the ones who have such a degree and try such cases. I suspect patent litigators would probably rather appear before a “good” judge without a science degree than the other sort, even if the latter’s wall is adorned with a framed PhD in astrophysics.

  7. My apologies if this is repetitive of other posts as I have only read the article and not the following discussion thread.

    Although perhaps useful, unless you want to practice as a patent agent (i.e. someone who drafts patents), a technical background is by no means mandatory to have a successful career in IP law. As we all know, IP law is a relatively broad area and includes various areas such as patent law, industrial design law, trade-mark law and copyright law (and the 2 other areas that only a few select lawyers have had the pleasure of working in, namely plant breeder rights and integrated circuit topographies).

    Obviously, for IP areas such as trade-mark and copyright law you don’t need to have a “technical” background. Strangely, students never question whether an artistic background is a prerequisite to practice copyright law or a marketing background a prerequisite to practicing trade-mark law… I have yet to see a tormented engineering student ask me: “I don’t have a degree in Music or art history, am I destined to fail as a copyright lawyer?!!” Although some would argue that this might simply be the result of the indoctrination engineering students go through during Frosh week… 🙂

    Even for patent law, you do not need a technical background if you are striving to become a patent litigator. Strong advocacy skills are what matter most and some would argue, being one step removed from the purely theoretical aspect of the case makes it easier for you to simplify complicated concepts (which most judges appreciate as most of them also don’t have technical backgrounds). Likewise, you don’t need a technical background if you are interested in becoming a commercial lawyer or transactional lawyer with a specialization in IP.

    The reality is that if you are bright and passionate about your chosen area of specialization, you’ll do well regardless of your academic background.

    This is a question that law students often ask themselves, but IMHO it is purely another “Bogeyman” story students like to tell to scare one another. The reality is that if someone has shied away from science or math courses because he or she has no passion for such fields of study, I’m guessing that such person probably isn’t passionate about becoming a patent agent. I have yet to meet a student who had no technical background yet had as a lifelong ambition of becoming a patent agent… 🙂

  8. I think everyone agrees that not having a science or engineering degree will not prevent someone from becoming a patent lawyer. For patent litigation, you do not need the technical background to be successful. However I think the technical background is extremely useful, if not almost essential for patent prosecution. I don’t feel that working in this type of law for 4 years for example will be equivalent to the knowledge acquired through a formal science or engineering degree. (I do agree that if you work in the area for longer you can acquire the expertise to understand the types of patent that you are prosecuting and be a ‘good patent lawyer’ as Anna said.) The requirements of some law firms (for Patent prosecution) or CIPO (you must have a science or engineering degree to be a Patent Examiner) are there in part for business reasons, but also because having this formal education is the best way to have the foundational knowledge to understand the patents you are examining. Even for people with these degrees, there is still alot of learning to be done in patent prosecution, since you may not have learned detailed information on the particular area of the patent even though it is in the same field of your science/engineering undergraduate degree. Also, as Conrad said, people in patent prosecution tend to have their specialized area they practice in. As such I would not be comfortable prosecuting a chemical or pharmaceutical patent since it is a completing different field than my background of computer/electrical engineering.

    Also, I agree with Conrad that we should address why there is low representation of women in math, science & engineering at the undergraduate level, as this is the real problem. Patent law is not deliberately excluding women from this area of law, the ‘requirement’ of a science/engineering background is reasonable considering the work being done in patent prosecution. Instead of trying to argue that patent law has put up this ‘technical background requirement’ as a way to exclude women, or discourage them from practising patent law, we need to focus our energy on getting more women interested in studying math, science & engineering. I have worked in patent prosecution and definitely would like to see more women like me (who have the technical background) represented in patent law.

  9. In relation to Anna’s first point regarding the trend in IP law of “male domination”, I would have to disagree. Conrad made a very interesting and I feel useful point which I feel is a good response to this “trend”. Often we are quick to name something as being a problem with a current situation when in reality the problem occurs at a deeper level and is much more systemic. The root cause is often not the consequence or rather problem that we observe right now, but something that has a long history and growth. In relation to IP law, there could be many reasons why men are practicing “hard IP” at larger proportions than women. It seems a more holistic approach is needed in order to better attack this issue.

  10. Currently, there is much difficulty in arriving at a consensus regarding the interpretation of claims, etc in patent law, also evidenced by Lord Justice Jacob’s speech. I noticed that in the above comments, points were made regarding many judges not having technical backgrounds (specifically science). Although it is not required and many valid points were made in regards to it not necessarily being a prerequisite to be a good practionner, could it be that maybe a technical background is what is needed?

    Firstly, it is true that clients applying for patents are “normally highly educated in a specific field”, ie they already have this technical background that we are contesting. Maybe, if it was a requirement that a technical background was necessary, some issues that are plaguing IP law today (such as interpretation problems) could be more easily resolved?

    Secondly, even though many praiseworthy legal minds are able to successfully practice in the “hard areas” of IP law, would not a science background only act to facilitate things? To even the differential in knowledge that is existent in this very specialized and technical field?

    Finally, would it really be such a harsh requirement when many other professions, have this knowledge hierarchy? For example, not all doctors (although they have completed med school) are able to practice the same things, as specialization is required for the more specialized fields… Could patent law be the equivalent to such a field? Or would it be better if we were to impose a requirement that students wishing to practice in the highly intricate areas of “hard IP” were required to obtain this knowledge base as a specialization after law school. This would also respond well to Anna’s comment that “a person who is passionate about a field should not be precluded from practicing in that field simply because he or she does not have a science background” for individuals wouldn’t be precluded as the option to practice would always be there if one so desired.

    Perhaps what is needed is a new language, a new base for these technical areas of IP law where what is considered technical and not required now becomes the foundation or rather starting point for the legal minds practicing in this field.

  11. Gargi,
    I like your suggestion to allow law students to ‘specialize’ after law school if they would like to acquire the science necessary to practice patents. This is certainly better than requiring an undergraduate degree in science since many students during their undergraduate years are unsure whether they would like to practice law and patents in particular. I got interested in patents only this year since I am taking a patent class. I would not have known what patents are about in my first year of undergraduate studies when I have to choose to go into science. A specialization after law school gives a student the opportunity to experience different subjects during his/her undergraduate studies. After the student has decided that patent is his/her field of interest, then he/she could specialize.

  12. Three points:

    1. It is quite usual for newly minted lawyers to specialize sooner or later after they qualify. What new knowledge they need to acquire can safely be left to them. Their clients or employers will vote for the adequacy of their efforts with their feet & wallets.

    2. The question of specialization for judges is a thorny one. Should trial judges be specialized? If not, should appeal courts be specialized, or is enough that at least one of the judges is a specialist? Is it enough that the bench has the opportunity of having an independent expert help them with the background science, as has indeed happened in some of the leading UK patent appeal cases? (And why leave it at science: do you want a judge with a tin ear deciding a musical copyright infringement case? Or similarly equipped lawyers arguing it?)

    Various jurisdictions have experimented, with various degrees of success, with one or more of a combination of all the above 3 variants. There is also an argument against specialists getting too wrapped up in their own subject and creating their own priesthood & jargon: see the protestations of Kirby J, dissenting, in the Australian case of AB Hassle v Alphapharm [2002] HCA 59 at [136]-[137].

    Might the best result in any disputed matter be reached by having people of various experiences and backgrounds come to it after discussion and debate (see Cass Sunstein’s argument in “Infotopia”)?

    3. Jacob LJ has a science degree. Ld Hoffmann does not. Both have contributed enormously to an understanding of patent law and construction over the last two decades in the UK and beyond (just read the recent judgment of the Canadian Supreme Court in Apotex v Sanofi, which quoted extensively from both judges to help explain Canadian law).

    Hoffmann, since he has sat in the UK’s highest court, has in a set of leading judgments created rules for claim construction and patentability standards in the UK in judgments that are generally recognized as masterful in both their understanding of the science & law. He has learned his science – chemistry, genetics, engineering – on the job.

    One has a similar spread of talent on the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, the specialized court that deals with patent appeals in the US. Some of the leading lights there have also learned their science on the job. That is what many judges and patent lawyers without a formal science degree do & have done for centuries. Are clients and the world generally any the worse for it?

  13. A footnote: there is a case for including in a law degree course (as one or two law schools already do) a module on Science and Law. This would introduce non-scientists to basic science methodology and principles, and which would bring to both scientists and lawyers an enhanced understanding of the nature and limits of each other’s discipline. The module would clearly not substitute for a BSc or BEng, any more than a module on Law for Scientists in a science degree substitutes for an LLB. But science and law intersect in so many legal fields – patents, environment, health, professional malpractice – that a structured introduction into their interaction may be a useful alternative or enhancement to learning on the job post-LLB.

  14. A couple of quick points to add to what has already been said…

    Regarding the science-background requirement: in order to prosecute patents before the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a person is required to have a science background (http://www.gowlings.com/resources/publications.asp?pubid=1102). Undoubtedly, the clients of many Canadian firms also regularly file patent applications in the United States. These clients are therefore dealing on a regular basis with patent agents who have a scientific background (and in some cases, are highly specialized). It may be that Canadian firms are sensitive to a perceived weakness if they cannot provide clients with access to Canadian patent agents having the same technical expertise as their American counterparts.

    On the other hand, several of the above posts point out that patent litigation is a practice that does not necessarily require a scientific background. One example of this is the recently-released Supreme Court decision on the topic of selection patents. Arguments before that court included representation by litigators who did not all have technical backgrounds. It is also interesting to note that there was some gender diversity.

  15. I’d have to agree that a technical background would give anyone going into patent law somewhat of an edge to begin with, but as Professor Vaver stated earlier, the applicant’s abilities should be looked at in their entirety. I’d even say that a science degree would be more helpful than not in litigation, all other things being equal (though because this is rarely the case, as also previously stated, we should say: all other things being equal within a certain range between applicants). A lack of a particularly useful trait for a litigator may be compensated by possession of more adept knowledge of the subject matter, perhaps most importantly, with respect to the time/money saved by not having to learn what’s necessary. Perhaps I’m being naive (though I of course admit that I’m speaking only in theory and not based on experience), but I would imagine that many cases are simply much more prone to being judged a certain way if the legal nature of the specific issue at bar is truly understood, meaning that the upper echelon of elite lawyering skills possessed by certain litigators may not always be a factor.

  16. I thank Anna for her post, but I am sorry that the take-home message seems to have been negative one. All of the issues mentioned here were indeed raised by the panelists and others, and they are real. Certainly women in the IP field continue to face these challenges, as they do in other fields of legal practice and academia.

    What I took from the day, however, was much more positive on the whole. First, of course, there is the simple fact that IP Osgoode was able to bring together so many women who are studying and working in IP, and provide an environment where we felt comfortable raising and discussing our concerns. This is something to celebrate in itself, but more on this later. Second, the opportunity to hear from women who are succeeding in this field is evidence that, while all may not be perfectly rosy, women are excelling in IP and occupying leadership roles. I suggested in my presentation that the recent growth and rise to prominence of intellectual property practice and scholarship has provided new opportunities for women to enter fresh territory not defined by traditional models and hierarchies. I think that the experiences of other panelists speak to this. Susan described carving out a niche in video gaming law, for example. Virginia and Darlene spoke of the many women they have encountered who occupy senior roles in IP groups and departments. And Ann offered a wonderful statistic showing that (I believe I’ve got this right) the majority of top cited scholars in IP scholarship are women — an unusual state of affairs that sets this field apart from traditional legal domains. I could go on, but my basic point is this: while IP law has been largely male-dominated, and certain systemic practices continue to pose obstacles for women, the Roundtable demonstrated to me that there are amazing opportunities out there for the women who are increasingly entering — and defining — this field.

    Finally, I’d like to add a footnote to the several comments that have been made about the lack of male attendance. Of course, we need to work to raise awareness; it is critically important that men are cognizant of, and sensitive to, the issues discussed (perhaps not least because many young men entering the practice face similar strains in balancing their professional and family lives if their partners also work). We also need, however, venues that provide ‘safe spaces’ for women to speak candidly about their experiences and concerns. While the lack of male participation undoubtedly speaks to a certain perceived disinterest, the conversation may have been a very different (and probably less rewarding) one if the proportion of men to women had not been what it was.

  17. Indeed, it would also be interesting to compare the number of female professors who actively teach & research in the area of patent law, versus female professors who actively teach & research in the areas of copyright law, or trade-mark law.

    It seems to me that the gender divide in academia and scholarship – at least in relation to patents – is also something that may need to be addressed.

    I suspect that much of the gender divide can be traced to the primarily masculine, individualist, and monopolistic pre-occupations of patent law. (Many of my own terminology needs to be unpacked, of course, but I plant the seed here).

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