A few weeks ago, a Bloomberg Law article was posted discussing the lack of diversity in the Intellectual Property profession. However, when it comes to Patent Law, the only area of law that requires a specific degree (science or engineering) to practice patent prosecution, the lack of diversity is even more staggering. My first patent mentor, Dale Davis, once explained it to me this way – he said, “Think about the number of minorities that obtain an engineering degree, then think about the number of those minorities that pass the patent bar, then think about the number of them that go on to law school, and then think about the number of them that graduate and pass at least one state bar. What you have is only a handful of minorities that are even qualified to be patent prosecution attorneys.”
That conversation was 13 years ago when I passed the patent bar, and unfortunately, not much has changed in 2020. But let’s be real – most of us minority patent attorneys are first-generation engineers and attorneys and only happened to stumble upon patent law by happenstance. We did not have the luxury of a lineage of familial attorneys telling us that we had to obtain a science or engineering degree to be a patent prosecutor, or what engineering majors are best for this profession, or that life sciences jobs in this field require at least a Master’s degree and, more often than not, a PhD.
Diversity & Inclusion in Law Firms
Recently, there has been a lot of talk of diversity and inclusion when it comes to law firms and, rightfully so. Yet, even if law firms are focused on diversity & inclusion, their overall methods do not address foundational problems when it comes to recruiting diverse patent professionals.
For example, due to the cost of training, many law firms in the patent profession would much rather hire an experienced lateral than to hire a new patent recruit without any training or real-world experience. Therefore, many law firms all target the same set of individuals. Yet, the majority of individuals trying to transition into this field fall victim to the all-too-common catch 22: law firms require new hires to have patent experience, yet the main place to obtain patent experience is on the job at the law firm. And once again, minority candidates sustain the brunt of this issue.
Consequently, the systemic lack of training and mentorship issue is really what prevents diverse candidates from transitioning into this profession. As such, if a law firm is not actively developing a pipeline of diverse engineers and scientists, then the diversity numbers will never truly increase except for lateral hires. Once again, prejudicing engineers and scientists from making the needed transition.
Filling the Gaps in Diversity Scholarships and Training
These are the fundamental basis of the National Council on Patent Practicum’s (NCPPs) Scholarship for Women and Minority candidates to train and practice as Patent Agents. We have built a pipeline of diverse candidates that are looking for your support to receive the training and mentorship that they need to enter the profession.
Justin Pierce, Managing Intellectual Property Partner at Venable and our Scholarship Committee Lead says, “What I like about this program is that it is actionable and the results are tangible. It is an easy way for law firms and corporate entities to support and increase diversity within the patent profession.”
In conclusion, we can talk about diversity and inclusion, but until we actually do something to address the fundamental issue of the pipeline constraints, the number of diverse candidates capable of transitioning into this field will never increase.
At NCPP, we are directly tackling this issue, and we strongly encourage others to take action in doing the same.