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23rd September 2022

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in IP

Season 2 Episode 9

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Episode 9 in Season 2 of the Cipher Vision Podcast series features Mike Binns and Braxton Davis, both Associate General Counsel at Meta,

Mike and Braxton shared with us their experience pioneering DEI in the workplace and the current initiatives that they are working on, including Advancing Diversity Across Patent Teams (ADAPT) and The National Council on Patent Practicum (NCPP).

They chat to the hosts of the Cipher Vision podcast, who are:

Mike and Braxton call for patent industry professionals to sign up to the Patent Pipeline Pledge

Conversation highlights

Entering the world of IP and overcoming barriers

Braxton Davis

I worked for General Electric and decided that in a couple of years, I wanted to go to law school and part of the reason for that was after experiencing racial profiling on several occasions with police and some negative experiences and contacting attorneys who essentially said, Well, you know, we see police get off from beating people all the time. So unless you have time and money to fight a case, you know, it’s probably not going to be worth it. And that was just very disheartening for me.

I began by thinking about, you know, how can I protect myself? How can I protect my family, as a black male here in America? And so I said, well, the next best thing I could do is go to law school and learn my rights.

So I then took the Patent Bar and was gung ho about patent law and enrolled in law school and was ready to take on the world, only to get to law school and realise that it actually didn’t prepare me for the task at hand of being a patent practitioner, for drafting and prosecuting patent applications. 

And so that’s essentially what led me on this course to begin training, which later became a national counsel on patent practicum, with a real focus on getting more diversity within the profession, whether it’s women, underrepresented minorities, and really trying to do something about that, because that’s a big part of what’s occurring within our profession right now.

Mike Binns

I went back and studied and realised that there was this entire world called patent law out there, where innovation meets the law, and you effectively get to protect IP on behalf of innovators. In my mind I am someone who loved innovation and technology was blown at that point.

But law was even something that I had not intended to go through, you know, I am from a Caribbean background, I was born in Jamaica, West Indies.

I think that’s kind of part of the problem that we’re looking to address is so many minorities, not just African American men, or women, but I think minorities generally don’t often hear lawyer as a profession, and less so patent law, which is this entire field, within intellectual property. 

On who currently ‘Mikes’ up for representation

My name is Mike Binns, I love my name. I grew up in the 90s. So I am a big fan of Mike Jackson, Mike Tyson, Mike Jordan, love my name had a lot of pride in it.

Statistically speaking, there are more Michaels in the patent profession of roughly 90,000 in existence, then there are racially diverse women. This is the one time where my namesake kind of is negative, right?

The need to walk the walk

If you’re going to mandate something, then you need to be doing those things yourself. And that’s really one of the things that I think Meta has been great at. But it all boils down to just really being intentional about it, and giving people opportunities that they may not be privy to otherwise. 

It’s not about targets. And let me explain why we don’t focus on targets.

Unfortunately, when you’re thinking about DEI, when you lock in on a target, people often when they reach that target tend to go a few, and then it stops, right? Then you end up with this artificial number that’s articulated to represent DEI. 

And while perhaps well intended, misses the mark of the purpose of diversity, which is to bring diversity of thought, cognitive differences, and various backgrounds and understanding together so that you can create a better solution to not only the work that we do day in and day out, but to further support the mission of the company.

And so it’s not about a data set. It’s just about a mindset of saying, “Where are we missing diversity of thought?” 

Our team is 67%, black, indigenous and people of colour, 48% female, and our most senior leaders are half female, and all people of colour. When we look out at the business units that we support, we’re starting to emulate those numbers as well. 

The personal impact of working in a diverse environment

We’re starting to see that each of those individuals can see in us a similarity, which boosts relationships, boosts an understanding of who they can come and connect with. And lastly, it boosts that connection, right, which in Meta is extremely important, because it’s a part of our mission. 

It truly does make a difference. When you look across the room and you see somebody who looks like you, and you know that they’ve experienced some of the same problems that you have and had to overcome some of the same barriers and hurdles. 

It makes for a more perfect bond, a better camaraderie. And so that’s very impactful, especially coming from an industry where traditionally you walk into a room and absolutely no one looks like you.  

It means a world of difference when it comes to your professional aptitude, how you perform, how you feel about your responsibilities and your day to day job. 

On forging a new IP path

We’ve taken a different approach than law firms have traditionally, right? In an industry where only 5% of attorneys are even African American. Is there a pool of patent practitioners, when only even a smaller percentage of that 5% is going to be able to apply by virtue of the fact that they don’t have a science or engineering degree?

And so the approach that we take that is unique to patent law, specifically, is that we target engineers and scientists at that phase where they’re at undergrad or recent graduates, because that’s where you’ll get more impact and more magnitude from a diversity perspective, right?  You don’t have to go to law school to be a Patent Agent. 

We provide them the resources for the training and support that they need to actually become technical specialists and patent agents go to work for a firm which then also increases their eligibility and potential for going to law school, not to mention the support and outreach that we received from various scholarships and law firms who are looking to support diverse candidates who are technical specialists and patent agents to go to law school. 

And this is what NCPP has done, to put that myth that, you can’t find anybody, you can’t find diverse candidates, you can’t train candidates to bet. We do the recruiting, we do the training. And so we cut straight to the chase and get rid of all of those excuses from the top.

How can IP teams get involved?  

We formed a coalition called ADAPT, Advancing Diversity Across Patent Teams. You can check us out at www.adapt.legal, the website is live and it’s all going to culminate on September 28 2022, as a part of LOT bridge, and a day of DEI call to action.

The focus of ADAPT is pretty simple. Increase accessibility, create a database of information to help accelerate adoption of DEI programmes by more companies to provide mentorship so that we can create a programme to support diverse patent professionals through a law school and an early stages of their career as Braxton mentioned before they approach law school and lastly, technology, track and published industry DEI statistics, that standardise DEI reporting across the industry. 

And this initiative was not just a partnership from Meta, but it was across collaboration with Google, Microsoft, Amazon, The Walt Disney Company and Cruise. And I’m honoured to say that when we launched and announced the initiative that several other companies have reached out to say we’d love to be a part of this and for other companies to join.

So you too, can jump into promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the space. 

On diversity amongst inventors

We realise that there is actually disparity amongst minority and underrepresented inventors as well. Traditionally, they do not own as many patents as let’s say, their non minority counterparts. 

For us, particularly specifically at Meta, we’ve taken the approach of engaging individuals, and beginning certain initiatives that will get to the help get to the root of that problem, and really looking for diverse inventors and looking to give them the resources and support that they need to actually become the owner of a patent or the inventor on a patent application which can change their lives. 

Increasing gender inclusivity 

Braxton and I are both in Atlanta, Georgia, in the US, and it resonates with us that the founder of Spanx is Sara Blakely. When she came up with the innovative idea for Spanx, she embarked on a journey to find a patent attorney in Atlanta that could represent her. 

She only found Caucasian men as practitioners. And each one of them declined to represent her most likely because they misconstrued Spanx as being another pantyhose. 

But the reality is it wasn’t until one of the attorneys daughters overheard the concept and said, Dad, that’s completely different, that that attorney was able to then assist Sara Blakely in drafting the claims and application. 

Sara Blakely was able to sell her company in 2021 for $1.2 billion. 

What has that done for her, her family and the future of not only herself, but the individuals that work in our company, right? It changes lives.

And so that’s why it’s important to see a practitioner on the other side that looks like you because they understand the idea the innovation. 

If we’re not actively engaging with diverse individuals who have diverse problems, to create diverse solutions, well, then we’re missing out as a society on tonnes and tonnes of relevant ideas that can catapult us into the future.

Braxton’s key takeaway

The thing for us is really engaging with more international practitioners, with more international vendors and understanding their problems and trying to help them as well.

To get involved with us is not hard. Go to the website, the ncpp.org. Click on the DEI tab, take the patent pipeline pledge and join us in trying to change the industry forever. 

Mike’s key takeaway 

DEI can seem overwhelming when you start to consider the bias and discrimination that marginalised communities face on a daily basis. But truly, together, we can address the innovation divide.

If we one recognise that we should not treat DNI, the separate initiative from our jobs. It’s got to be a part of what we do, and why we do what we do, too.

We need to continuously evaluate and measure whether our efforts are addressing the problem. If we don’t see meaningful change, then perhaps we should reevaluate.

And lastly, we need to build a community of committed allies. Cipher, the NCPP, ADAPT, all programmes are looking to work together to pull in the same direction. And I’m confident that we can see change in that regard. 

Nigel’s Key takeaway

Braxton and Mike are phenomenal individuals, they are driven and ambitious, so destined for individual success. But you’re encouraged to look beyond this to what they strive to achieve, diversity and inclusion.

This is a multi dimensional problem and one which matters. And many other companies that support NCPP, ADAPT and the diversity pledge are attacking from all directions.

As with all our conversations on Cipher Vision, we should start with why. Of course this has a social dimension, but it’s also rooted in economics. The future depends on technology and innovation. This requires the very best talent to be attracted to science and technology and the intellectual property rights that protect the associated investment.

The reality that the IP profession is not harnessing this potential on grounds of gender or race is economic negligence.

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