Can you tell us about some of the biggest obstacles that you have faced in your professional life – and how you have overcome them?
The challenges that I have faced over the years are the same as those of many women in this profession. A significant one has been to ensure that my analysis, point of view and strategic vision for a particular issue for a case is fully heard, which I have learned to handle by focusing on oral communication skills. Further, in the early stages of my career, I started speaking at conferences in an effort to develop name recognition. Over time, this has definitely helped me. Another challenge is balancing home and work – I have been able to achieve by learning the art of delegation. I now spend my time more judiciously on what is truly important to me.
How has your management style evolved over your career, particularly over the past year of remote working?
It has been a tough 18 months due to the covid-19 pandemic and we have all had to stretch and exercise muscles that we were not aware we had. Throughout the year, we have made huge efforts to ensure that our firm remains connected, including global practice meetings and frequent virtual client events and newsletters. Our partners hold check-ins with groups of associates to ensure that everyone has the resources and support that they need.
However, this past year has made me think about issues beyond associate development, training and reviews to see how we can provide a workplace that is compassionate and understands all of the unique issues posed by the pandemic. To stay connected, we have formed small pods, as we call them. Each one is led by a partner and provides associates with a safe space to share their struggles, such as isolation, balancing work and childcare, and the overall impact on their mental and physical health. Creating an open forum to connect has been welcomed and has had a positive impact on staff. We plan to keep it in place as we adapt during in the second year of the pandemic, continuing our efforts of creating an environment that nurtures excellence and teamwork.
Which of your cases or matters has been the most memorable and why?
The most memorable matter for me was when I was asked by one of my pharmaceutical clients to conduct a worldwide audit on their patent portfolio, which protected a key clinical candidate. This involved understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the portfolio to be ready for litigation challenges. Since the matter was not limited to the United States, it gave me visibility and a deeper understanding of global life sciences litigation issues, which I can now bring to the table when working with multinational patrons.
What are the biggest challenges facing your clients at present?
An unforeseeable consequence of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies providing life-saving vaccines in record time has been the demand from many sectors to set aside all IP protections available for pharmaceutical products, such as the covid-19 vaccines.
This demand to do away with protections for life-saving drugs can be a slippery slope and may have a chilling effect on the ability of smaller biotechnology companies to obtain the necessary resources to innovate and be prepared for the next catastrophe. While the distribution of vaccines around the world at reasonable prices is the only way for us to combat the pandemic, collaboration between companies and sensible price control measures, along with voluntary vaccine donations may be the better route than setting aside IP protections, which allow for investment in biotechnology companies.
What are your key recommendations for conveying highly technical concepts so as to get buy in from non-experts?
Simple storytelling is crucial when breaking down complex technical and legal issues for non-technical experts. Also, listening to the non-expert’s point of view allows me to have an understanding of who my audience is and how I should frame my recommendations so that they can be understood and ultimately followed.
Global Chair, IP Practice and Partner [email protected]
Anita Varma is based in Boston, with a dual practice in London. She is qualified to practise before the USPTO and the EPO. Ms Varma provides strategic patent counselling to life sciences industry companies, guiding them through every stage of a product’s lifecycle. She works with clients to obtain enforceable claims and support them in post-grant proceedings, as well as developing and executing both offensive and defensive patent strategies.
Click here to see her IAM Patent 1000 2021 profile.