Evelyn Chen is senior counsel at Ericsson. In the summer of 2017, she was shortlisted for the Future Leader – Gender Diversity award from Chambers for in-house counsel, and the Federal Circuit Bar Association recently named her a Global Fellow. Kelley Conaty recently sat down with Evelyn to discuss the growth in the IP industry, diversity in the workplace, and advice for going in-house.
Kelley: What is most gratifying for you in your current position?
Evelyn: Being able to see patent law beyond the U.S. litigation context, both from the business side and globally. I have so much more appreciation now for how patent laws and policies have similarities and differences in different jurisdictions, and how it really affects the business innovation sectors overall. It is a larger, wider, global view than I had before when I represented large clients in U.S. patent litigation.
Kelley: I know you frequently speak about diversity here in Texas and elsewhere. What trends have you seen over the last five to 10 years for diversity in the IP field?
Evelyn: You and I have lived through a lot of this together. I started as a patent agent back in 2001 and as an engineer. In science and engineering, there are already so few women, and then for those of us who want to go into law – into patent law – it is even fewer. It is not surprising then that gender diversity is a constant struggle for the IP field. What we are seeing now is that diversity is really an active part of the conversation. It is more at the top of people’s minds, especially management, to make that global change across the profession.
In a wider context, diversity is the focus of not only law firms, but also their clients. I see this every day in my own employer. Ericsson is a Swedish company; Swedish and Scandinavian culture and thinking permeates the workplace and they really put gender equality at the forefront, so I am very fortunate in that way. We have a goal in place of “30 by ’20,” which is to have 30 percent women at all levels, including executive management, senior management, and so on by 2020. When that goal was set, many departments were already close to, or over, 20 percent women.
Kelley: Along those same lines, you are involved in the Women in Law in the Eastern District organization. Can you tell me a bit about that group?
Evelyn: The organization has been in place for a year and it is part of the Eastern District Bar Association. It was something that the Bar Association saw was necessary to provide opportunities for women to connect and network. We have a very strong support from the judges as advisers to the committee, which is wonderful.
Kelley: What advice do you give to young attorneys who are just starting out their careers in private practice?
Evelyn: Be open to trying new opportunities. One thing that I appreciated about being in Sidley’s office in Dallas is that it wasn’t just litigation in a specific technology area that came in the door. We had cases involving different technologies, we had trademark cases, and we had wonderful pro bono opportunities that associates were encouraged to take. It was fulfilling and gratifying to advocate for an asylum seeker and to apply my time and skills to immediately positively effect changes in someone’s life. Be open to trying all those things out because you never know what that experience will lead you to next.
Kelley: Do you have any thoughts that you would want to share with attorneys that are transitioning into an in-house position?
Evelyn: I think the key is to know what you want in terms of your practice and what you want to do because there are many different opportunities out there. Personally, I was not interested in going in-house just to manage litigation. Ericsson offered me the chance to work with patents in a business and policy context where I was actually contributing value to the company instead of just being a cost center. This appealed to me enough to convince me to leave a wonderful group of colleagues that I still miss to this day. I would caution those thinking of going in-house, though, to not believe the myth that an in-house role is going to be easier or less time-consuming than being at a firm. My frequent flier status for the last few years may be exhibit A in how that might not necessarily be the case.
Published December 2017
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