Sherry M Knowles


What led you to found your own firm and what advice do you have for anyone else considering taking a similar step?

I had been a partner at a large global law firm and also the senior vice president and chief patent counsel at GlaxoSmithKline. After spending so much time with entrepreneurs, I wanted to become one! Starting Knowles IP Strategies was Act III for me. I wanted to create a small law firm that solely works on complex biopharmaceutical matters, to assist clients of all sizes with the kind of advice and experience that a major pharmaceutical company uses to make its own decisions, and that is practised at the largest firms. This all without the complication of layers of management, conflict clearance and other necessities that come with a large practice. We are often called on as a ‘fix-it’ firm to help clients with thorny IP problems. We represent clients through every level of financing, including initial public offerings, adversarial strategies, sophisticated patent portfolio strategies, negotiating licences and dispute management. I also act as an expert witness in complex litigation matters. And we are able to do it in a relaxed ‘techie’-type small environment. Our office is in Atlanta, Georgia, which is not considered a biotech hub, yet we are grateful to consistently represent key biopharma clients in the northeast, west coast and Europe. Each stage of my career has been an exciting learning experience and the best for me at that time in my life. I am glad I chose to become a biotech patent attorney years ago – what a wonderful adventure!

Becoming an entrepreneur in the law firm space can be difficult if you have not established yourself yet in the community. I recommend getting some deep experiences at a larger firm or at a corporation, or both, before doing so, so that you can provide your clients with that knowledge base.

What are the biggest challenges facing your clients at present?

Our clients are in the biopharmaceutical industry, which I think is among the toughest of all to succeed in. Our small and mid-sized clients need to raise money and all of them need to take lead compounds through human clinical trials, fraught with failures and high costs, prior to market approval. I have great respect for biopharma innovators because they are dedicated to improving human health and saving lives. They do this in an extremely difficult scientific and legal environment. Short-sighted legislators who only look at the price of drugs and not the risk/reward balance, and court decisions that wholescale rewrite the law on patent eligibility in a manner inconsistent with the US Constitution, and that raise the bar for patentability, make it harder to protect and get financing for life-saving drugs.

The race to develop and distribute covid-19 vaccines has thrust the biopharma sector into the spotlight – what changes do you expect to see as a result of this research?

The innovators who rapidly identified treatments for covid-19 should be honoured for their service. The new mRNA vaccines will likely usher in a whole new class of protective medicines against a range of infectious diseases and perhaps even cancer. Companies have also identified new pharmaceutical tablet drugs at quickfire pace that may be used in the future for numerous diseases. I hope the public understands and appreciates this life-saving effort.

What are your key recommendations for conveying highly technical concepts so as to get buy in from non-experts?

This is a great and challenging question! Most chemistry can be simplified through pictures (if details are omitted!). Think of explaining it to your family or friends or someone at the grocery store using simple analogies. I recently had to explain what the mRNA covid-19 vaccine was to a house contractor to convince him he could not get coronavirus by injection of a small piece of the virus. This shows how critical it is to explain sophisticated science on a simple level to help people lose their fear of medicines.

What can the United States learn from other key jurisdictions to create a more globally competitive patent system?

I question whether there is a more competitive patent system than the US system, even with its warts. Each one has benefits and flaws. Europe is more sensible on patent eligibility but is difficult on basis and added matter. China is very strict in its requirements for confirmatory data in patent applications, which disproportionately affects the biopharmaceutical industry.

Sherry M Knowles

Principal [email protected]

Sherry M Knowles is an IP attorney with over 30 years of experience in global corporate and private practice. She has served as an equity partner at King & Spalding – where she founded the pharmaceutical and biotechnology patent practice – as well senior vice president and chief patent counsel at GlaxoSmithKline. Since 2010, she has been the principal of a law firm that specialises in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, handling an extensive range of IP matters including large pharmaceutical groups, mid-cap companies, emerging operations, universities and investors.

Click here to see her IAM Patent 1000 2021 profile.

Unlock unlimited access to all IAM content