Grand Rapids IP Women enjoy tour and discussion at Steelcase



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

An informal group proposing to help women professionals involved in Intellectual Property law find each other as well as find their way in the IP field was treated to a tour and discussion at Steelcase last week.

Grand Rapids IP?Women, or GRIP, is an organization started in Oct. 2016 which is modeled, in part, on the Environmental Ladies Tea group featured in the 1/17/18 Grand Rapids Legal News, according to Barnes and Thornburg Partner Elizabeth Peters, a GRIP co-founder.

Peters adds that it was also inspired by Chicago Women in Intellectual Property, of which she is a committee member.

A planning committee volunteers to move GRIP forward, including Peters; co-founder Monica Stover, also of Barnes and Thornburg; Lisa Harris, Assistant General Counsel on Steelcase’s Legal Strategies Team, who hosted the Jan. 25 meeting; Phoebe Bower, Price Heneveld (the meeting’s panel moderator); Brittany Harden, Miller Johnson;

Rebecca (Becky) Becker,  Warner, Norcross & Judd; and Brandi Van Leeuwen, Meijer Inc.

Why women and IP?

As a rule IP attorneys and other professionals have backgrounds in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). An undergraduate degree in a math or science field is a requirement for taking the Patent Bar Exam, passage of which is required in order to practice in front of the United States Patent Office.

Though the numbers are shifting somewhat, historically there have been many fewer female than male students in STEM disciplines. This gender disparity extends into the legal field.

A highly random survey of IP law firms found anywhere from 1 in 10, to 1 in 8, to 3 in 21, to 25 out of 67 attorneys were women.

As a result, there may be discrimination coming from clients or potential clients, or even colleagues, that exceeds that in some other legal disciplines. Groups such as GRIP can serve a mentoring role and offer support. One attorney at last week’s meeting said that as a young associate, there were clients who would speak to her about the law but when it came to their invention or product, insisted on seeing a male — even though they knew she had an engineering degree.

And as panelists who set the stage for a roundtable discussion on effective relationships between in-house and outside counsel noted, knowing the product is critical to success.

“I think you really first off have to know your clients, know their products, do research ahead of time and have some passion about it,” said Catherine Collins of Warner Norcross + Judd in answer to a question about best practices to foster those relationships.

“I want to love the products you make just like you do,” said Liz Peters. “Understanding those products does take time, but it will always pay off.”

The two other panelists were both drawn from the in-house side: Melanie Glover of  Amway Corp. and Pervin Taleyarkhan, Associate Legal Counsel at Whirlpool Corp.

All agreed that settling on a best mode of communication is key to forging those successful relationships. Taleyarkhan said that she prefers email because whenever she is making a decision on a given case, she gives it a reference number; she can then search her emails for the number and come up with all that has transpired.

“I personally prefer to be copied on as much as possible. That helps me create the story of where we are,” she added.

All of the panelists were very specific in their advice. Ultimately there was general agreement that developing a close and lasting business relationship involves the particularities of the parties involved, and no advance formula can get you all the way there.

The discussion was held in Steelcase’s Business Center “Workcafe,” and followed a tour of the building. The space offers interesting visuals everywhere, various informational graphics looping on wall-mounted screens (about such things as pets and Steelcase’s recycling), open offices with options for working while sitting or standing, and even live trees combined with comfortable chairs around a calming pool. The approximately 30 GRIP participants were an appreciative audience.