Justin Pierce

As a leader of Venable’s IP practice, what does inspiring leadership look like to you?

Inspiring leadership generally involves a blend of qualities that motivate and empower others to achieve a shared goal. Key elements of this include vision, integrity, a resilient and positive outlook, clear communication and adaptability.    

Within the context of a law firm’s IP practice, this involves a combination of IP knowledge, a forward-thinking mindset, leadership and process management skills. Beyond being well-versed in IP law, one must understand the industries in which clients operate and the challenges and opportunities that they face in their business.

A few major generative-AI cases have made headlines around the world in the last 12 months. What should companies contemplating involvement in this space bear in mind?

There are a few things that these companies should be aware of. The first is copyright: generative AI content may pose issues regarding rights ownership, infringement and the question of whether such content is covered by the fair-use defence. Second, they should be aware of the risks that come with entering trade secret information into a generative AI application. It could result in the loss of trade secret protection for that proprietary information. Further, several privacy laws such as GDPR, the California Consumer Privacy Act and others, may apply if the AI model is trained on personally identifiable information.

Next, companies and organisations should note that AI models trained on limited, non-inclusive or incomplete data may present liability for bias. This is especially important to consider when AI is assisting in making hiring decisions. Lastly, it is crucial to remember that generative AI applications are not always accurate. They can ‘hallucinate’ or make up convincing sounding, but false information. Generative AI content should be checked to reduce the risk of liability for deceptive or false advertising.

Prior to joining Venable, you served as in-house counsel to a major multinational, where you led a global brand protection department that enforced intellectual property around the world. Can you tell us more about how this experience contributed to your professional development?

It was a great experience that provided me with exposure to the challenges that major brands around the world face in different jurisdictions, with different laws and levels of law enforcement assistance. Further, it provided numerous opportunities for me to use creative, business-oriented and practical solutions to tackle IP strategy and brand protection issues.

What prompted your shift from in-house to private practice?

The confluence of two factors. First, the company, a joint venture that I worked with, was coming to an end. Second, the opportunity arose for me to leverage my experience and skills with the global network of businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals that I had already worked with around the world.

You represent clients in a wide range of industries, from automotive to mobile devices and AI to consumer products. How do you stay abreast of the latest developments in such a broad array of fields?

Never stop learning. I am an avid reader and regularly study or “do homework” to keep up with changes, developments and major events in my clients’ industries. Additionally, I often visit clients wherever they innovate, manufacture products or provide their services. This accelerates the learning process and provides engaged clients with immediate value.

What, for you, are the key elements of a world-class IP strategy?

First and foremost, an organisational culture that truly values innovation and the use of intellectual property to protect and leverage that innovation. World-class IP strategy usually involves a multi-faceted approach to using the company’s IP assets to gain a competitive edge.

Some other key elements to consider are

  • the systematic identification of IP assets and the steps taken to protect and secure these (eg, filings for IP rights in key markets, or the use of NDAs to protect sensitive information);
  • the alignment of IP strategy with business goals and objectives;
  • the relationship between IP strategy and R&D;
  • regular and systematic efforts to harness intellectual property through various types of licensing, collaborative endeavours, and selling or leveraging strategic assets;
  • the monitoring and enforcement of IP rights, and
  • the regular review of the IP portfolio, and
  • updating strategies to address dynamic business environment and needs.

Your in-house experience gave you substantial knowledge of strategy issues that are challenging executives. What are the most prominent ones, and how do you devise winning solutions?

The first issue that executives must deal with when it comes to developing and implementing a winning strategy in their organisation is to understand the impact of culture. No matter how good your plan is, it will be ineffective if it does not align with the company culture. Ultimately, the people implementing the plan are the ones that decide if it succeeds or fails.

Next, alignment of the IP strategy and the company’s business objectives is key. For example, IP assets should protect the company’s key products and brands, and provide coverage in the locations where they are manufactured, distributed, marketed, licensed and sold. Additionally, when innovating new products and services, developing intellectual property around them ensures flexibility and the potential to monetise or leverage it well into the future. Alignment is an ongoing and constant task, as is adjusting to the environment and competition that businesses face.

On top of your legal practice, you are an inventor and patent holder. Based on your experience, what is the most valuable piece of advice you could offer to entrepreneurs seeking to protect their innovations?

My advice is twofold: focus on innovating to solve a specific problem in a field or industry, and learn everything you can about that particular area.

Which aspects of your work do you enjoy the most, and why?

I really enjoy working with different clients across multiple industries. Each situation requires innovation to successfully deal with the challenges and opportunities facing their businesses around the world, and this is hugely rewarding.

What are some vital characteristics that clients should look for in an IP attorney?

Clients should endeavour to find an attorney with passion, creativity, experience, expertise in their field and the ability to give practical advice.

Justin E Pierce

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Justin Pierce is a leader of Venable's IP practice. He has significant experience advising companies and their executives on how best to develop and use intellectual property to achieve their business objectives. Mr Pierce guides clients through a range of IP litigation, transactional and strategy matters. He is well versed in handling rights of publicity, domain name and social media disputes, and routinely advises companies with respect to AI and cutting-edge issues involving intellectual property.

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