IP Hall of Fame interviews: Laura Quatela

A patent commercialisation whizz, who has captained monetisation efforts at Eastman Kodak and Alcatel-Lucent SA, she is currently chief legal officer and senior vice president at Lenovo.

What makes a good leader of an in-house legal team or IP team?

Breadth is crucial. If it’s your aspiration to lead, then you need to make sure that you have experience of as many areas of the law as possible, whether that’s by rotating through the departments at a law firm or getting exposure to different subjects within a company.

I find that as a general counsel you don’t have time to go to the law library and research every question that comes to the team in rapid fire fashion. But if you have been exposed to a wide range of matters at least you can spot issues and figure out what kind of help you need to get to the right answer.

Also, it is super important to make sure that your team is diverse and that you have a variety of perspectives on a particular problem or issue. At Lenovo, we say that we provide smarter technology for all – but if ‘all’ is a limited set, then we are not really providing the right solutions. We need to make sure that the teams creating our products, providing our services and presenting our marketing are diverse and cover all perspectives.

You are one of comparatively few senior female leaders in the patent monetisation space. What are your thoughts on the potential challenges that women face in the industry and how can these be addressed?

I haven’t felt challenged in the patent monetisation world as a woman. Though I could give you a list of occassions where I felt like all the men at the table were discounting my input, that hasn’t really been important. What has been significant for me is that if you come at IP monetisation as a lawyer, sometimes business people at the table will categorise you as a ‘just a lawyer’ and think that there needs to be another voice at the table for commercial issues like monetisation and transactions.

I don’t think that is right. If you expose yourself to a broad range of topics in your early career and you have learned the language of finance – which is a critical component – then I think a lawyer can be highly successful in transactional situations. I have had many occasions where I have had to prove that to a CEO or CFO or business group leader. The right lawyer can come in and negotiate a really good, creative transaction from beginning to end, without the need for a specifically business background.

Do you have any more advice for legal/IP professionals in dealing with non-IP business leaders?

In IP monetisation and conflict management it is very much about relationships. That is why I have been able to be successful as a woman in the industry; because I think women are really good at developing relationships. There is not a conflict I have worked on that has been successfully settled without a good underlying relationship.

I know that has been a challenge for a lot of folks during the pandemic, because you are not getting to know the other people over dinner or going to meetings together – things that help you to understand the pressures that the other side is under.

I have worked very hard in my career to work with companies that have the same mentality of developing very deep relationships. Whether I am against Nokia or working with Nokia, I know those people and they know me, and a bit of integrity is what will get you to the endgame.

What is the most important lesson you have learnt in your career?

I think it is the importance of integrity. You have to work really hard to build your reputation and then to deliver on that. There are lots of temptations to take shortcuts along the way, to hold out for what is best for you. But I don’t think it will get you to the best solutions. I have learnt that sometimes you have to preserve your integrity at the expense of a good deal.

The other thing is mentorship. The people who have put out a hand for me and helped me along the way have made a huge difference to my career. I would not be doing what I am doing without them. At this stage, I feel pretty strongly about doing the same for others.

Are there particular IP leaders or mentors that come to mind?

I have a lot of admiration for Ilkka Rahnasto, who ran intellectual property at Nokia. We started out as adversaries in a licensing deal but I learned a number of things from him. I could always count on him – he was a very trustful individual. And he was principled and would always do what was right.

I also saw him devote a lot of time to developing people in the IP space. He created a conference for the industry and would bring together young IP professionals and speakers – he was devoted to that learning model, which really impressed me. Over the years, we have developed a friendship where I know to seek him out for help on transactions or for career development.

The other person is Bill Lee, the most successful IP lawyer in the world who has represented everyone from Apple to Kodak. Bill is somebody who has spent a lot of time on the career development of young professionals within Wilmer Hale. He has also been there for me many times. As well as this he is a Harvard professor and teaches a class on leadership. I am grateful for all the things he does.

How can political leadership contribute to promoting more and wider innovation?

We at Lenovo find ourselves in the interesting position in the middle of China-US politics. I think it is important that we have political leadership that works to support innovation, funding important efforts. We are seeing this play in the United States around the semiconductor industry, where the government is very focused, bringing resources and funding to target innovation in that space. Conversely the Chinese government has been very clear that it has certain technologies where it expects to be leading and it will target those areas. It should be hand-in-hand effort for private and public organisations.

You have had many different leadership roles across several organisations. How transferable are leadership skills across different roles?

I tend to rely on the same skills whether I am in an IP role, a general legal role, a business role or working as a consultant. I go back to breadth of knowledge, I go back to diverse teams and always the importance of understanding and speaking the language of finance.

Obviously, a consultant has to be mindful of the fact that they are simply one input in the decision-making process, but otherwise I tend to approach different roles in the same way.

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