World IP Day 2023: Women and IP - An interview with Helen Kavadias and Katherine Zheng of HWL Ebsworth
We had the opportunity to sit down with Helen Kavadias and Katherine Zheng of HWL Ebsworth to discuss their journeys in the field of intellectual property (IP) and the current state of gender representation in the Australian industry.
RH: How did you get into IP and what has your journey been like?
HK: It's been a bit of a long journey, but it doesn't feel so long. Sometimes it feels like I only started in IP yesterday.
I have always been interested in the commercial side of science and innovation. I did a medical science degree, and law, and as part of it I had to do an honours research here in the medical science component. It was during that time that there was an IP dispute in the lab that I was doing this project in, and that’s what sparked my interest in intellectual property. So, I took some intellectual property electives during my law degree, and then when I finished law, I was certain I only wanted to do IP.
I wanted to do enforcement and litigation, so I moved around to sort of get the skills that I was interested in obtaining and HWL Ebsworth has allowed me to bring all of that together and offer a full scope of IP services in a full-service commercial law firm. The firm is very commercially orientated, and it does sort of promote itself as offering unrivalled value, so it was a good value proposition for the clients that I had worked for in the past.
KZ: It has been a much shorter journey for me so far. My interest in IP is built on my interest in film and the arts. I studied film studies and marketing at university, and I also had a law degree combined - and IP just felt like the most natural intersection between those two areas. I really enjoyed the subject, and when it came to applying for graduate roles I was really drawn to the firm because of the great IP practice we have here. I've been in this role for coming up to two years and that's been my journey so far.
RH: This year the theme of World IP Day is women and IP. Do you think that your IP journey has been different due to being a woman?
HK: My IP journey started because of an interest I have rather than being a particular gender. And I think if you are good at what you do and you're passionate about what you do, then gender really becomes irrelevant. So, from my personal experience, I can't say that I experienced any sort of gender differences, and I don't think my journey was any different because I was a woman. I think even if I was a man, it would have been the same because I made decisions based on my interests rather than my gender.
KZ: In the relatively short span of my career so far, I don't think there's anything in particular about being woman that made my IP journey different from another person's. The partners that I've worked with so far have all been incredible women, and I think that just felt very, very supported.
RH: Have you needed to overcome any gender-related obstacles in your career, or felt a difference in the dynamics of working in a group where the majority were male?
HK: In our Sydney office, all the IP members - partners, associates, graduates, lawyers - they're all female. So, I can't say I really have any obstacles. I think if just like I said, you’re interested in what you do and passionate about what you do, gender just really becomes irrelevant.
And the composition in our team, it being all female, wasn't by design. It just kind of happened. Where I've been in IP teams in the past, it's probably been somewhere between 5050 at times. In terms of how you work and interpersonal relationships are, I can't really point to any clear, obvious difference.
I think, again, if you're working with sort of like-minded people, you're obviously drawn to a particular area for a reason. And if you have similar interests, it makes working together with other people, regardless of their gender, just really easy and natural.
KZ: I would just sort of echo the same things about being passionate about and interested in what you do. And I think the best work comes from that. And in my experience, that sort of helped me get to where I am today. And as Helen said, we are an all-female team and that's just been the norm for me. So, I don't know any different. And I feel really fortunate that there are these incredible women working on the team.
RH: How do you see the landscape for women in intellectual property evolving in the future?
HK: If you look at the statistics in Australia, we have more than 60% of graduates being female now. And so, I think you'll probably see, at least in Australia, more women in IP law. And not just IP, but other legal areas as well.
KZ: I guess I think it's also important to recognise that maybe our team might just be an anomaly and we don't want to sort of say that ‘yes, it's just all women in IP now’ or ‘this is the norm’. I think there is still room for discussion in terms of whether in other countries or other firms there might be sort of still that imbalance. But in my experience, that's not been an obstacle to me progressing throughout my career.
RH What is the biggest challenge in managing a global IP portfolio in your experience? And how do you personally approach overcoming it?
HK: The biggest challenge when you're dealing with large portfolios is managing all the deadlines. Whether it’s prosecution deadlines or renewal deadlines, we're fortunate that we're in a place in time where technology has evolved so much. We're not just relying on our outlook calendars or diary entries in a hard copy diary to keep on top of deadlines.
For that reason, we're really excited to be working with RightHub because from our experience, we're still learning and finding the ways to utilise it best for our practice and for our clients. It's evolving and the product itself is constantly evolving as well.
It really takes away that administrative burden that is a part of IP practice. It's not the only part, obviously, but it does take away that administrative burden that, as IP professionals, allows us to sort of get on with the more interesting work as well. So, we're really grateful that there are now platforms out there like, like Righthub, that make our life easier in that respect.
Other than just managing the deadlines, it's nice to just be able to bring up a client's portfolio with the click of a button - it's a nice report and it looks good. And obviously, it's dependent on the quality of the data entry, but it's just a lot easier than how things used to be done in the past, which was manual and very time consuming. So that's a good improvement that I've seen in my IP journey and I'm sure it's just the beginning and there is still a long way that we that we could that we could go.