IPTA co-VP: Connect with and learn from those you admire

One patent attorney was all it took for Christine Emmanuel-Donnelly to choose IP law as a profession

IPTA co-VP: Connect with and learn from those you admire

Christine Emmanuel-Donnelly has always been fascinated with the role of science in intellectual property law, but all it took was a visit from a patent attorney to steer her to the career path she has been thriving on for the past 25 years.

Today, Emmanuel-Donnelly is the proud IP and commercialisation manager at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). On top of that, she is also the vice president of the Institute of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys of Australia (IPTA) for a second term. What pushes her to constantly expand her horizon is “the desire to have legal advice from someone that has some understanding and even better experience of the business environment”.

In this interview, Emmanuel-Donnelly talks about how companies can get ahead of their competitors using IP, the power of research centres, and her successful transition into two new boardroom roles.

What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?

I was excited about the opportunity to use my background in science and work on the cusp of new technology whilst knowing how intellectual property law could help the business. I had been working in a student exchange position at Ciba Geigy in the UK (straight after graduating with an honours degree in science, together with a major in economics), and I recall the day the patent attorney visited. He was in a suit and understood the science, and yet he brought a lot of knowledge about IP law to the meeting. His view was well respected, and it appealed to me. A year later when I was at the crossroads to choose a PhD or to join the IP profession, that experience influenced my decision-making.

There are several aspects of the job I really like: the interaction with scientists; having a complete understanding of an invention and the science relating to it; and being able to understand the value that IP law brings. In particular, with my roles on boards of two ASX-listed companies, the impact of having a clear IP strategy, planning business development and populating pipeline with an idea of IP protection using IP tools to be aware of your competitors, and anticipating opportunities via an IP lens is very impactful. It relates directly to the value of the business, and it provides opportunity to increase value.

What’s going on at the organisation? Are there any new programs and initiatives you’re particularly interested in?

In my role in the IP and commercialisation team at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, several initiatives are of interest: the rollout of an understanding of ‘impact’; a sharper focus on the ‘translation’ of research outcomes; and an investment in becoming more inclusive of our Indigenous culture as RMIT engages heavily in its journey of reconciliation. In my role as VP of IPTA, the injection of younger councillors and diversity of all sorts, being gender, race and breadth of professional roles, means there is diverse activity. The IPTA emergency practice support service is a wonderful initiative currently being developed.

What tech-related initiatives adopted by the organisation, if any, are you most excited about?

The research centres are particularly interesting, as they present the research capability of an organisation in such a way that it helps industry to understand how they can engage, otherwise it’s very difficult for companies that may need innovative solutions to know how to penetrate a large organisation such as a university.

What’s been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so? Or what’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year, and what advice can you give your fellow lawyers about it?

Making a transition to completely new roles, that of working on boards and joining a team to translate research outputs. The advice I would give to others is not to be afraid of trying new things; to keep on learning; and to connect with those you admire and respect, and learn from them.

What are the challenges you expect in the business of law going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?

In my role on the boards of businesses that are expanding globally, my expectations that a local practice will be able to provide global advice are increasing, and the desire to have legal advice from someone that has some understanding and even better experience of the business environment.

What are you looking forward to most in the coming year?

Having taken on a mixture of roles, I’m looking forward to contributing in a different way, to really thinking strategically and leveraging across the roles. I’m hoping that after my experience with isolation that came from COVID, I am able to really appreciate relationships, including those in my professional life, and to think about others that have been through difficult situations.

If you were given an opportunity to spend a day with anyone (living or dead), who would it be and why?

My mum, when she was my age.

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