What is top of mind right now for in-house life sciences IP counsel? I recently attended the Life Sciences Patent Network (LSPN) North America conference in Boston, and was lucky enough to moderate a panel (with three excellent panelists) on invention harvesting and managing IP. LSPN ensures that the bulk of those participating are in-house IP counsel that are dealing with IP issues critical to the life sciences industry on the ground. This means that not only are the presentations extremely relevant, but attending ensures you can learn from peers and contemporaries who have real “skin in the game.”
In reflecting on my experience, I found six takeaways that stood out to me as most relevant for those in the life sciences industry:1. Staying Up to Date on Legal Developments (it’s not what you think)
It is of course useful for in-house counsel to stay up to date on current legal developments and shifting legal landscapes that impact IP and business strategies. And this can be extremely interesting and gratifying for company counsel. But the sheer volume and frequency of these changes (such as the implications of the rollout of the Unitary Patent Court in Europe, the uncertain status of written description and enablement standards in the US with respect to claims to antibodies, and potential legislative changes to qualification for patentable subject matter) means that it is probably not necessary for them to be tracking every update and subscribing to every publication source on these issues. Instead, it is incumbent on outside counsel to first keep themselves informed, identify the most relevant updates to their company counterparts, and reach out to keep them informed.2. Establishing and Maintaining Trust Between In-House and Outside Counsel
Hand-in-hand with the previous takeaway, it is critical that law firm attorneys understand the needs of their in-house counterparts and share updates and advice on legal developments that truly matter to their clients. Underlying any such relationship is trust–something that must first be established, but also maintained. But doing so is immensely valuable for both sides–I heard over and over again from in-house attendees that they “love our outside counsel” (a direct quote, not an exaggeration).3. Creativity Counts!
The pace at which technology (particularly AI and machine learning technologies) advances is truly staggering. Even just a few years from now, the technology landscape will be unrecognizable from today (and in ways that cannot be predicted). My colleague Dan Rudoy spoke eloquently about the various approaches that some of these technologies are being used in the life sciences industry, and how the legal landscape is rushing to keep up. To understand how to do today what needs to be done to best position your company for success in the future requires creative thinking and flexibility in envisioning what a truly different future might look like, and planning accordingly.4. Meet New People; Stay in Touch With Those From Your Past
The threads that connect us are so unimaginably tangled and intertwined. And the world of life sciences and the law are small–the average number of degrees of separation between any two people at this conference could not be many more than one or two. These connections benefit us all in so many ways; by connecting us with resources, potential future clients, employers, and employees, peers to bounce ideas off, or even just friends. Because you never know which of these relationships may end up being critical to you, your career, or your company, it is crucial to make and maintain these connections.5. The World Remains Global
That may sound silly, but even though there tends to be a US focus in the life sciences industry, there are many other jurisdictions that can be important in numerous ways—not just as markets for future drugs and therapies, but as sources of innovation, inspiration for new ways of doing research or business, and even localized groups of patients with unmet needs that our industry should address. One of the reasons this conference was great was because of the heavy presence of ex-US individuals. That served as a reminder (at least for me) that even as the world these days often seems to be moving towards contraction and insularity, we can all benefit by broadening our horizons and thinking about our world more globally.6. Diversity Matters
The moderator of a panel by this same name opened by remarking “I am grateful that the topic of this panel is now ‘Diversity Does Matter’ and not ‘Does Diversity Matter?’ as it may have been in the past.” But that was a brief pat on the back, not an indication of a job well done. To the contrary, we need to keep our focus on this issue. It matters. It matters to patients, it matters to clients, it matters because it is morally the “right” thing (in a world where it is increasingly difficult to figure out what “right” actually is), and it matters because it is indisputably correlated with success. With respect to this last point, I was struck by how valuable I found the diversity of thought amongst the attendees of this conference. Each person I spoke with had a different perspective and brought a different background and skillset each day, which constantly had me thinking and rethinking my own perspective on issues relevant to our industry. While we have a long way to go towards achieving the diverse and equitable industry that we need and deserve, this was a small reminder for me that it is critical to continue pushing down that path.