Brian Chau is a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall.
Special thanks to the panelists for contributing their perspectives and insight to the Osgoode community, and to Amanda Carpenter who has assisted me in writing this synopsis.
On Wednesday January 27 2010, the IP club at Osgoode Hall Law School held a career panel with several distinguished guests with a diverse range of backgrounds: in house lawyer, firm lawyer, and the Director of the Trade-marks Branch of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). There was a large amount of interest – the event was well attended with approximately 50 students showing up, and actively participating in the discussion.
During this event, students were given a rare opportunity – they could freely engage experts in the field and ask questions that really mattered to them, whether they were about recent developments in the law or how the guests initially entered the field of IP law.
Lisa has been with the CIPO since 1993. She has held senior positions in several Branches within CIPO, including Director, Copyright and Industrial Design Branch, Chair, Trade-marks Opposition Board and now as Director, Trade-marks Branch. She is a member of the executive team at CIPO, with responsibilities for corporate as well as Branch priorities since 2003.
Lisa has a computer science degree from the University of New Brunswick, a law degree from the University of Western Ontario and an MBA from the University of Ottawa. She has extensive experience in the field of intellectual property and has led Canada’s representation on Trade-mark issues at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva for over a decade. In 2006 she was Canada’s Head-of-Delegation to the revision and adoption of the new Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks.
Scott Beeser is a Biopharmaceutical Patent Attorney in the Global Intellectual Property department at Apotex Inc. in Toronto. He obtained a PhD in Biology from the University of Utah and a LLB from Osgoode Hall in 2002. He is a registered Canadian Patent and Trade-mark Agent. Prior to joining Apotex, Dr. Beeser was an associate at an IP-boutique in Toronto where his practice was largely directed to pharmaceutical litigation.
Ashlee is a lawyer and trade-mark agent at Keyser Mason Ball whose practice encompasses intellectual property and branding law including trade-mark, copyright, domain name, marketing, advertising, packaging, labelling and licensing law. She assists her clients from an agency, commercial and litigation standpoint.
Previously, Ashlee articled and was an associate at a Toronto-based IP boutique. Ashlee graduated from U of T with a degree in international politics and from Osgoode with an LLB in 2006. Whilst at Osgoode, Ashlee interned with the United Nations in the Middle East.
Ashlee currently leads the IP and branding law practice at her firm and is actively involved in the IP community (executive member of the Toronto Intellectual Property Group, and holds various committee member positions with the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada and with the International Trademarks Association).
Generally, questions asked by the attendees took several major themes that reflected some of the growing concerns that students have in the practice of law: Getting a job, maintaining the work/life balance, the strength of the IP community. The following is a quick synopsis of the answers provided by the panelists:
Getting the Job: Does a technical background really help?
Lisa Power and Scott Beeser both hold advanced degrees – Lisa has a background in computer science combined with an MBA, and Scott has a PhD in biology. Both panelists described that the advanced degrees were useful to reduce the technical learning curve, but not absolutely necessary for the effective practice of law. Furthermore, Lisa’s MBA helps her in running the daily operations of her branch in the CIPO office – from allocating finances to managing the various department initiatives. Scott’s PhD gave him an edge in quickly understanding and dealing with technical issues at Apotex.
Ashlee took a different approach – while she did not have a technical background, Ashlee worked at a small IP boutique during her time at Osgoode. This experience would prove invaluable as her responsibilities quickly grew, and she developed a strong appreciation for IP that she would carry on to develop a growing trademark and copyright practice at her firm.
Overall, the panelists agreed that not having a technical background wasn’t a hindrance – and that what mattered more were the soft skills developed over time both as a student and as a lawyer following graduation.
Maintaining the Balance: Simply a myth?
All three of the panelists started their careers at firms, with Lisa and Scott leaving after several years to join CIPO, and Apotex, respectively.
With regards to the work-life balance at the firms, the panelists noted that the hours are often demanding as a function of the type of work. The problems were generally not with the overall workload, but more over the fact that the schedule was difficult to control given the need to align with client and market idiosyncrasies.
Ashlee cautioned students that while the hours may be tough, students should not be so quick to jump into in-house: there are some things that can only be learned in private practice, and it is often difficult to jump back. Scott noted that it is difficult to land an in-house job without having a background in private practice – his experiences at Smart & Biggar were instrumental in providing a foundation for his current role as in-house counsel for Apotex.
The IP Community: It’s a small world after all.
The importance of building networks and the tight-knit nature of the IP community were key overarching themes evident throughout the discussion. The panelists all noted that there are a small number of IP practitioners in Canada, and therefore it is paramount to treat others with respect. Taking a “zealous advocate” approach may make sense in the short term, but may come back to haunt a lawyer in his/her future endeavours. Scott raised an excellent example: as a lawyer for a company specializing in generics, his natural adversaries are the brand-name drug companies. However, he is highly cognizant of the fact that these adversaries may very well one day become colleagues – and maintains fairness and professionalism in all interactions.
From a global perspective, Lisa and Scott touched upon the cross-border nature of IP related legal issues, especially with the world-wide nature of pharmaceutical patents. Lisa spoke about her involvement representing Canada at the World Intellectual Property Organization, the challenges inherent in obtaining consensus across a very broad spectrum of stakeholders, and ideological differences between Europe and Canada with respect to economic growth. Given the nature of litigating claims in the pharmaceutical industry, Scott’s department has developed a global IP practice that is able to provide cross-regional legal perspective.
Ashlee mentioned that the relationships extend beyond the practice – she has successfully partnered with several community and advocacy organizations that have helped her develop her client base.