“Being an IP Attaché gave me a big ‘leg up’ to getting promoted. I’m very lucky to work for an agency that places so much emphasis on career growth and personal development.”
Can you name the top three critical skills one needs to be an intellectual property (IP) attaché for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)? Karin, a former deputy chief policy officer and attaché says that they are listening, communicating, and having a knack for networking and building relationships.
The last is of the utmost importance, as the mission of an IP attaché is to serve as a global IP ambassador for the United States—a vital role in protecting American intellectual property internationally. The USPTO’s Office of Policy and International Affairs sponsors the IP Attaché Program and represents the United States at most World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) meetings overseas.
When Karin served as an IP attaché in Geneva, Switzerland, for five years, establishing relationships with other governments who may not always see “eye-to-eye” made all the difference for achieving shared goals for the good of humankind.
While on post overseas, she worked on a variety of IP issues, especially those related to public health. In doing so, she helped to educate local intellectual property rights stakeholders on how intellectual property laws incentivize research and development and provide a vehicle for compensating creators.
Karin needed to sharpen and hone her listening and communication skills when at her post, but she credits being able to simply pick up the phone and lean on those carefully cultivated inter-agency and intergovernmental relationships to resolve particularly challenging matters.
“Each country approaches decisions with different perspectives,” she says. “To come to agreement, it is important to be able to listen, to know the pertinent facts relative to a decision, and to be able to speak honestly with others.”
During her tenure abroad, Karin got to know who the experts were from other governments and IP organizations. She says that there’s no “cookie cutter” type of resume for a candidate who can serve as an IP ambassador.
“Everybody can be effective,” says Karin. “Take time to get to know the people that you are working with and to understand their priorities. For one matter it may be necessary to agree to disagree, but eventually the friendships you build will help provide opportunities for finding common ground.”
The intangible and enduring benefits of having worked as an IP attaché are still making an impact on Karin’s career now that she’s back stateside. Prior to her role as an IP attaché, Karin was a patent examiner for 10 years, having been recruited to join the USPTO right out of college. Through the USPTO’s tuition assistance program, she earned a Juris Doctor from the George Mason School of Law and soon thereafter became a senior legal advisor for the Office of Patent Legal Administration.
She went on to pursue several other short-term assignments, or details, all of which included various aspects of international IP protection and IP law. When she heard about the IP Attaché Program and saw that there was an opening in Switzerland, she jumped at the chance. She anticipated that, with the leap across the pond, she would have many enriching experiences and would widen her knowledge of intellectual property.
This experience also helped Karin advance within the USPTO. “I have to attribute my promotion to deputy chief policy officer to having been an IP attaché,” she says. “In that position, and in my current position, I use my experience to work effectively with experts within the USPTO as well as other experts from U.S. agencies and international organizations.”
She loves this about the USPTO; people can begin their tenure in one area, and then go to other parts of the agency using the specialized expertise that they gained along the way and apply it to a different context.
“We’re very lucky to work for an agency that places so much emphasis on career growth and personal development,” she says.
Her advice to those who may be looking for a career change but have not yet heard about the IP Attaché Program is to learn as much as you can about international treaties and what’s happening in the world. In particular, gain a clear understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats relating to foreign IP systems. Just as important, develop your listening, communication, and networking skills.