Sidebars

Mary Hannon: Shining the Light on the Wide Gender Gap in the Patent Bar

May 12, 2021 Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP Season 1 Episode 4
Sidebars
Mary Hannon: Shining the Light on the Wide Gender Gap in the Patent Bar
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, April and Kim interview Mary Hannon, the woman who started the public conversation about the gender gap in the patent bar and inspired this podcast. Mary is currently a law student at DePaul University and in the fall she will be joining Sidley Austin as an associate in the IP litigation group. She is the author of The Patent Bar Gender Gap: Expanding the Eligibility Requirements to Foster Inclusion and Innovation in the U.S. Patent System, which was published in IP Theory in the fall of 2020. This article generated significant media attention and in December 2020 U.S. Senators Hirono and Tillis referenced Mary’s article in the letter they sent to the Director of the USPTO concerning the gender gap among patent practitioners. 

In March 2021, the federal register published a request for comments by the USPTO to propose changes to the eligibility requirements to sit for the patent bar.

In this podcast, we will explore the trajectory of Mary’s education and career, which led her to formulate her ideas about the gender gap in the patent bar, and her innovative ideas about the solution to this problem. 

Highlights include:

  • The many facets of a science-related career (3:23) 
  • The path to IP law (5:11)
  • Handling rejection with grace and turning it into a job offer (9:14)
  • The best advice Mary got from her dad (11:22) 
  • Work-life balance as a trial lawyer (15:07)
  • The inspiration behind Mary’s ground-breaking article (26:05)
  • The arcane criteria currently used to determine patent bar eligibility (29:17)
  • Possible fixes to the outdated eligibility criteria for the patent bar (32:09)
  • Increasing the visibility of patent law as a career option (35:52)
  • Expanding opportunities vs. lowering the bar (37:35)
  • Sailing through unexpected celebrity and controversy (41:00)
  • Finding your voice and seizing the day (50:18)

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Articles Mentioned in the Episode:

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**The opinions expressed are those of the attorneys and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm or its clients. This podcast is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.**

Mary Hannon:

It's 2021. People are learning science in so many different ways than just a traditional bachelor's degree, right. People learn through their own independent work , and I think there's a lot more to the job than just knowing the science.

April Abele Isaacson:

Welcome to Sidebars, Kilpatrick Townsend's limited podcast series focused on women and patent law. I'm April Isaacson , a patent litigator and partner in the San Francisco office.

Kimberlynn Davis:

And I'm Kim Davis, a patent prosecutor and partner in the Atlanta office. We're here to discuss the gender gap in the patent bar and have candid conversations with female patent practitioners on their career paths.

April Abele Isaacson:

Welcome back to Sidebars. I'm April Isaacson in this episode, Kim and I have the absolute pleasure of interviewing Mary Hannon, the woman who started the public conversation about the gender gap in the patent bar and inspired this podcast. Mary had a footnote in her article saying, I welcome any comments and /or discussion and gave her gmail address, which is why I reached out to her. I just did a cold reach out to her via email. She got back to me in less than a day, I believe. And as a nice Midwestern woman apologized for not getting back to me a little bit quicker than that. So I thought that was just great. Mary is currently a law student at DePaul University and in the fall she will be joining Sidley Austin as an associate in the IP litigation group. She is the author of the “The Patent Bar Gender Gap: Expanding the Eligibility Requirements to Foster Inclusion and Innovation in the U.S. Patent System” which was published in IP Theory in the fall of 2020. In October, 2020 Law360 published an article entitled "USPTO Is 'Institutionally Biased' Against Women, Study Says," naming Mary and her piece. In December, 2020, Senators Hirono, Tillis, and Coons sent a letter to the director of the USPTO concerning "the gender gap among patent practitioners" specifically referencing Mary and quoting her p iece that states "qualified women are unnecessarily excluded from membership in the patent bar," as well as talking about various s tatistics that were set forth in her piece. In January, 2021, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Director responded to the Senators' letter indicating that h e's asking the USPTO to evaluate the issue. And in March, 2021, the Federal Register published a request for comments by the USPTO to propose changes to the eligibility requirements to sit for the patent bar. Mary Hannon, welcome to Sidebars.

Mary Hannon:

Thank you, April. I'm happy to be here.

April Abele Isaacson:

We will be discussing your excellent work. But, first I wanted to ask you a question about what made you pivot.

Mary Hannon:

Well, I think that's a little bit of a long story and I actually, Kim, I was listening to your episode and I was telling April that I related a lot to your path and how you got into science originally. We'll touch on that I'm sure at some point., But yeah, when I was working at , a chemical company in the northern suburbs shortly after receiving my Master's in Chemistry. I worked there for about two years or so. I started out as an intern in their agriculture group. They manufacture surfactants and other commodity chemicals. So I started out there working on pesticide formulations. Nothing super exciting, but you know, work in the lab, traditional formulation work. And then later, I transitioned into their personal care group . So I was working on shampoos, body soaps, and hand washes - fun and more tangible application of science will say. And while I was there, I also started adjuncting at DePaul University doing teaching some undergraduate organic chemistry and general chemistry labs. I just started realizing that Ifell into that position and started to realize that I was a lot more passionate about talking about science and educating others about science than I was about doing the science in the lab day in, day out. And part of my job at that chemical company was to educate the sales teams and the business teams about the different chemistries and how they work and the different products and how you could use the chemicals. So, I was a lot more passionate about that side of the business than I was about doing the science. But, at that point, I was contemplating, okay, I had a friend who kind of followed a similar path as me. He did a Bachelor's and Master's program in chemistry, and then he went on to do IP law. So that was in the back of my mind. I was like, okay, that's an option. I also was interested in doing maybe an MBA doing kind of the business side or doing a JD/MBA. I didn't really know where I was going to fall. So I started looking for technical specialist positions. I think I found this, my friend who I still can't remember exactly how I figured out that that was the job that I could potentially do. I think it was probably a little tip from my friend who went into the field and he kind of knew of these positions. So , I started looking for those types of roles and found one day on, I think Law360 for the firm I ultimately joined by applied and I interviewed, and I didn't get at that time around. That was, I think, October of 2015, I want to say fall of 2015, but I stayed in contact with some of the partners and attorneys that I interviewed with because we made a personal connection during the interview. And we had lunches over the next year or so. And then about a year or a year and a half later, he reached out to me and say said, "Hey, we have a position opening." It turns out the person that they initially hired the first time I interviewed had left. So that position opened up again and they called me back in. I interviewed, and I got that position then. So that's when I left the industry working as a chemist and moved into law as a technical specialist.

April Abele Isaacson:

And there's a couple of things. I just want to tee it off before I know Kim's going to want to ask some questions. There's some similarities I'm seeing here. You know, people who maybe don't necessarily enjoy working in the lab, but love the science. Kim and I are certainly similarly situated to that. And also, you know, just some of the opportunities you had to work with other people , that are non-scientists like Kim did. So I'd love for you and Kim to have a bit of a dialogue about Tech Specs and some of those types of things, because there are certain similarities there.

Kimberlynn Davis:

Mary, so first of all, I have to share with the listeners what I said to you when I first logged on and saw your face I'm in awe. First of all, I feel like we have a celebrity in our midst.

April Abele Isaacson:

That's what I told her. I said, I feel like we landed the the Oprah interview.

Kimberlynn Davis:

It has to be the highlight. I bet it'll be the highlight of the season. When we do a recap, mark my words, this will be the episode that I'm like, "but remember when we had Mary." I just need to first say, and just, re-emphasize what April teed up with. You inspired this entire podcast. Like, that's huge, right? To read your note , to see the response that you received and then for our team to get with us and say, guys, what are we going to do? Mary has issued a call to action. Now, what are you going to do to follow suit? And for us to be more than willing to do it? I mean, again, celebrity.

Mary Hannon:

Thank you that I feel like it's such an overstatement, but I appreciate it. And it's, like I was saying, it was completely unexpected and not intentional.

April Abele Isaacson:

You know what, to me, as someone who's 26 years ahead of you and my career, seeing you as a 30-year old and what you've accomplished already, and you haven't even started as a lawyer yet. It's really just phenomenal to Kim's point. Thank you.

Kimberlynn Davis:

So, Mary , I want to ask one question: One, I'm going to save for later because I think it relates more to your note when we dig into that a little bit deeper. But I want to bring you back to the fall of 2015 when you first applied and didn't get the position. Right? So remember that episode where I talked about the failures, but how you learned from those. So tell me and the end result is what I'm thinking in my mind that I'm going to hear you say "it was for my good, for this to happen." Can you speak to us a little bit and encourage our listeners about how you were able to still muster up the strength to strengthen those relationships with those who interviewed you? Because that's huge that they called you first when it didn't work out with the other person.

Mary Hannon:

Yeah. You know, obviously it sucks to ever be denied a position or something you were really looking forward to,. But, you're exactly right. That extra year or a year and a half that I had at the chemical company was huge. I'll just call it Stepan. It's a little bit easier to just say the name of the company. So I was there for another year and a half. And in that time, I'm trying to remember the timeline exactly. Because when I interviewed, I was still in that intern role. And so, then when I went back, I ultimately had the option to stay on full-time in the personal care group or they also offered me to go full-time in the agriculture group. So, I got the opportunity to come on full time and then ultimately got promoted. I think I got promoted three weeks before I left, actually. It was kind of funny timing, but I gained so much more in that experience and I built a lot more relationships there and I'm just still in contact with people that I worked with there. It really just grounded me. I learned a lot more about not just science from doing it, but also the business and it gave me more perspective coming into a Tech Spec role or a patent agent role where you have to understand a little bit of your client's business on top of just the science. So that extra year or so really helped to give me some more context. It helped me hone my skills and be able to figure out how to balance science. Prosecution really depends on you using your science in a way that you can communicate and understand people's ideas and their business. So I think that year really made a difference and I think I'd be in a completely different place had I not had I gotten the role right when I started or first tried.

April Abele Isaacson:

And I have a question for you about that because, as you listened to Kim and how she had her support system when things didn't work out exactly according to what she had as a checklist. I know you don't have as robust of a checklist per se -who did you turn to when things didn't work out exactly as you planned and you had to deal with the disappointment of it?

Mary Hannon:

I primarily turned over to my family. I have a big family -I'm one of four girls. I'm the youngest of four girls and my parents are super supportive, but they've kind of always been who I turned to. My dad, who is a lawyer who should be retiring, but he will never retire (I don't even care if he hears that), he always has been supportive and his advice to me that I've carried with me forever is to, "ride the wave." That's what he's always said, whenever something goes wrong a nd he's, "it happens for a reason, just kind of ride the wave and you'll end up where you are, where you're meant to be with some more hard work and just dedication. So I would say I probably mostly turned to him and my sisters and my mother.

April Abele Isaacson:

And in your quest for kind of being the best and just striving for excellence - how has the fact that you have three sisters played into that?

Mary Hannon:

We have always been, we're a little competitive, but we're also also different that, you know, we're not really stepping on each other's toes because we're all kind of trying to do our own thing. My oldest sister and I are very Type A - we like to get things done the way we want everything done the way we want it to be done. My middle two sisters, who are just as hardworking and just as awesome, are a little bit more relaxed and are more "play with the punches, roll with the punches." So, having the sisters has really kind of pushed me to be my best self and to understand that we all measure success differently. They just encouraged me to do what I need to do for myself and my path is going to be different from theirs, but we all kind of push each other to just do our best and be our best self .

April Abele Isaacson:

It's interesting for me, and then I'll turn it over to Kim because I know she has a sister who's older. I have two brothers, one of my brothers was one grade ahead of me. He's a year and a half older. And my younger brother is a year and eight months younger than me and was two grades behind me. And we had a lot of sibling rivalry. And for me as a girl, it was, you know, you're seven years old. You throw like a girl. Well , I am a girl, you know, so it was a very different dynamic. And, Kim, I'd be curious for you with an older sister - how this resonates, what Mary's saying, with you?

Kimberlynn Davis:

Okay, so let me put this out there for everyone, I'm the baby of the family. So that means I do it my way. I throw a fit, you know what I mean? But, the good thing about and, usually I go and run and tell daddy. Yes, I am that type. I'm curious, Mary, about the role that your father has played in your career choice and also , viewing him as an attorney, watching how he balances everything and what lessons you learned from there that allowed you, which transitions us also to another big topic, you to work by day and go to law school by night. I know I included a lot, but we can unpack that step-by-step if you want.

:

Sure. Well, and I would be remiss to not mention my mother and all this too, because she is a teacher. She's always been a first grade teacher. She started when I was in first grade, she started kind of in second, then first grade teaching. So I like to view my path as the perfect combination of both of them, because I initially started out before I jumped into law as an adjunct professor. I enjoyed the teaching side of it and I'm also fusing my dad. My dad is a trial lawyer. He's not in IP or any way related to science. So, I just kind of think of a perfect kind of blend of them has led me to where I am. My dad is extremely hardworking. He's a trial lawyer and I don't think I really appreciated that growing up because he always was present. We played softball, played all the sports. I was big in theater and choir in high school. He was always there. Both of them were always there, but he was extremely hardworking. I remember he would be working in the evenings, you know, just reading briefs in his recliner chair. And I don't think I ever really appreciated how much time he really put into that and how much time it takes to raise four girls to be as strong as we are and independent and successful. So he has always been really hardworking. To me doing law school, everyone talks about how doing law school at night and working full time is so much. To me, I feel like it's just normal. I'm always saying yes and I always do too much. So I'm used to doing a little bit too much., I'm always balancing two things. So, when I was working at Stepan , I maybe worked there for a couple months with just work and then come home at 5:00 PM and be done for the day. But, then I took on the adjunct role and I was doing that maybe twice a week in the evenings plus the grading of lab reports. And then, I stopped teaching and then I started studying for the LSAT in the evenings when I was working there. So I'm always doing something all day. I have never had a job where I come home and put my feet up at 5:00 PM and just relax. That to me feels weird, I'm not great at relaxing. That's something I'm personally working on.

April Abele Isaacson:

You know, you have two other type a women on this phone who don't know how to relax. I think I can speak for Kim in that way. So , that certainly resonates with us. You know, one of the things I think is really great that your dad, as someone who is a really busy trial attorney, took that time to come to your activities. Do you have any sense of how he was able to balance that?

Mary Hannon:

I couldn't tell you. I think he knew how to work his schedule to get and plan his day to get things done. When trials were coming up, he'd wake up at 4:00 AM, go to the office and we wouldn't see him before school. He'd have late nights, but he was always there. I don't ever remember him skipping on a softball game, or a concert, or performance for work. And, thinking about that now, I don't think I ever really appreciated that really until this moment talking about it .

April Abele Isaacson:

It sounds to me like he took what your activities were and your sister's activities as a priority. And then he worked his job around it, which is absolutely fantastic. Do you have any fond memories of perhaps as a child going to his office and kind of seeing that?

Mary Hannon:

Oh, absolutely. I mean, that was like a playground we would go on the weekends or in the evenings when pretty much everyone was gone. Me and my sisters would run around the entire office, pick up someone's desk, pick up their phone. And, we'd say, call me on this extension and we'd call each other. Our dad, he always would carry one thing - a recprder. I think that helped with his efficiency. He always had a recorder, a Dictaphone, to record his briefs and things for his assistant to type up. Which is , I think, a dying skill. And some people still, swear by it. I've never tried it, but he would do that. And so we would leave him messages on his Dictaphone and he would find those later. I wonder if he still has some of those tapes because we would just play around with those. It was, yeah, it felt like a playground,

Kimberlynn Davis:

But so, so what I'm taking away from all of this and mind you, I have a pen in my hand, I am scribbling down notes, furiously, all of this is so rich and so great. I'm learning from your dad right now, right ? Looking at your face, the listeners, of course, can't see you, but let me tell you listeners, what I'm seeing Mary's face is so bright when she's thinking of her dad and telling us these stories, Her eyes are just shining. It is absolutely clear that she has very pleasant memories of that time. And it's a message to me and maybe some of our listeners that we have to, even though we're balancing - preparing for a case and just getting everything done day to day, make it fun for the kids. I mean, your dad didn't turn you away from the law. You embraced the law based on the experience. Oh, I absolutely love it. So, so I know he was thrilled. I'm sure when he found out tell us about that moment.

Mary Hannon:

Yes. I'm the youngest, also the baby. So I'm a daddy's girl as well, but yeah, I'm the only one of us to have gone to law school. So I think, I was his last shot. I think hhe's really happy and he's very proud of me. I know both my parents are - two of my sisters are educators and are in the education system. So my mom has that connection with them. I think he was very, very excited to have, have at least one of us following his footsteps.

April Abele Isaacson:

Well, one thing I know is that you also wanted to go to medical school originally. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you moved away from going to medical school?

Mary Hannon:

I mean, what 18 year old goes to study science and doesn't want to go to medical school after university, right? That just seems the path. So, I started out as a bio major and a Spanish minor. And I did my first year with my gen bio and gen chem and just did not like bio. I felt like it was just rote memorization of the parts of a plant. And I was like, I don't care, but I really liked chemistry. That was a shock to me because I had thought I was going to be a bio person. I don't know why. I just kind of felt like that was what I was going to do. And I liked the more analytical aspects of chemistry. And I liked doing math, which was surprising to me because I tested out of college calculus from high school and I hated calculus in high school. I was just so glad to have gotten the credits to be done, but it turns out, I really enjoy math. I graduated with my specialty as an analytical and physical chemistry and physical chemistry is all calculus. I ended up also with a math minor. So it really was a shock to me when I got to got to college and realized that I had completely different ideas going in than I actually found to be when I got there. Around my junior senior year, I still had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. I thought, I, you know, I'm getting a degree in science, I have to do something. I have to either go be a chemist in a pharmaceutical company or go to med school. To me, those were the only options. How else do you use a science degree other than be a scientist? And I knew even then that I didn't really want to be a scientist, but I felt like that was the only way I could do anything else is if I did a few years of kind of lab work.

April Abele Isaacson:

And we're all nodding our heads on this with Mary because Kim and I, it definitely resonates with that .

Mary Hannon:

At that point I was like, well, let's try med school. Let's think about that. I also wanted to be an OB GYN, Kim and I remember that from your [episode].

Kimberlynn Davis:

We are kindred spirits.

Mary Hannon:

Yes , I know I heard that. I literally, I was walking my dog that day, listening to your episode and I just started laughing. I was just like, this is insane. Anyway, I talked to a professor about the MCAT. At that point, I still was not fully convinced. I was just like, I'm going to do it because it feels like that's what I needed to do. But I really wasn't thrilled with the idea of more school and training - especially when it's all scientific. I was ready to be done with science training. I did not want to do a PhD. That Christmas, I came home for the holidays and my mom had gotten me a bunch of MCAT study books for a present. And I opened them and I started crying and I was bawling at Christmas.

April Abele Isaacson:

Not the reaction she expected I'm sure.

Mary Hannon:

I was just like, "I don't want to do this." And she's like, it's okay. We'll return them. And that was the end of my med school dreams. So then I graduated at that time I applied for DePaul does a five-year BS/MS program. I was like, going to do the MS program. I got a graduate fellowship, which paid for my tuition. I also got paid a stipend to do TA classes. So I said this will buy me another year to figure out what I want. Then ultimately I went to the chemical company after graduation for my Masters.

April Abele Isaacson:

What was the reaction of your mom, in particular, who had given you the MCAT books for Christmas?

Mary Hannon:

Well, I think she was probably confused and also a little upset in that "how did I get this so wrong." But, I really didn't give her any signs before that wasn't what I wanted. Getting the present, those books, I was, "Nope, not for me." And I think she was just kind of confused but I don't think she took it personally. My mom said, "oh my God, I'm sorry. I didn't know." I felt so bad after the fact. They've [my parents] always done so well and been such good providers. I think she [my mom] was probably thinking, "how did I miss the mark? But you know, that was probably my fault for not really telling her.

Kimberlynn Davis:

And in retrospect, I mean, think about that moment, how it has allowed you to pursue something different, right? That moment allowed you to wake up and say, you know what, I just can't do this. I do not want to do this. My heart isn't in it. I think that was the best gift ever.

Mary Hannon:

I agree. It was a wake up call, a freedom. I wasn't convinced [that] I was going to do it [med school], but I probably would have done it because that's who I am and I'll work hard and do it if I think that's what I need to do, even if my heart's not in it. So it was a freeing moment to be like, "I'm okay with now with this decision, everyone else in my life is okay with this decision. They're not going to, force me to do something that I don't want to do. So yes .

April Abele Isaacson:

So sort of like epiphany moments that you have, you know, what I think really is funny is that we have three women right now on this podcast who all thought that they were going to be scientists and are now and particularly thought you were going to go to medical school and we all are going to be lawyers - because Mary will be graduating soon. I wonder if there's a podcast out there of people who thought that they were going to be lawyers who now are our doctors, just, just throwing that out there. If there are any of those listeners, let us know about it. Mary, I'd like to now turn to the excellent piece that we referenced earlier that really has started this public conversation. Can you explain to the listeners, what inspired you to write the piece in the first place?

Mary Hannon:

Sure. Well, that was a school assignment. I was in an advanced IP class that was an academic writing type class, advanced upper level writing. I went into this class and then, read the syllabus and I saw the entire grade was basically, pick an issue within IP and write a paper on it and turn it in. And so that's how the whole thing started when coming up with topics - this was probably when I started formulating the idea maybe in March/April of 2020 , and there's a lot going on in that time within our world. I just didn't want to do something that was hard IP. I didn't want to write about Alice . I didn't write these really technical, nuanced issues, because while I appreciate the law, I'm a lot more passionate about some of the more intangible / sociology sort of dynamics within the space. When I was at Marshall Gerstein, I was on the diversity equity inclusion committee b ecause I've always just been passionate about those issues within law, within STEM, and everything. So sitting in those meetings and going to webinars and things about women, race, and law, I just started thinking about how everyone always blames - why aren't we hiring minorities? Why aren't we hiring women - on pipeline problems? Oh, we can't hire these because they're just not t here. We need to get more people, minorities and women in STEM. And until we do that, we're not going to solve the problems. And I just got really sick of that excuse; to me, it was not satisfying. It was not true. It just didn't sit, right. So I started looking, I can't remember how I came up with t he specific idea, but I was thinking about what kind of science are women doing? And then I compared with the bar requirements. Because I had heard, we've all heard those stories of people with an esoteric degree, not a traditional chemistry degree or a traditional biology degree that had issues with the patent bar - getting accepted to take the patent bar exam. We've all heard those stories. And so I was just like, "hey, what else can we do other than focus on the root cause of women and men or women i n minorities in STEM and solve this issue in a different way," or at least, plug a hole, in the pipeline so we can get more people in this profession. And so that's kind of where the idea came from to do this.

April Abele Isaacson:

Yeah, it's amazing because Kim and I think we talked about it when we had our introductory episode, we looked at it. I'm a women's college graduate, she's a graduate of an HBCU. So we thought about it in that way. And you're right. Some of the way that the degrees are written in what is in Category A right now - and I mean, no disrespect to someone who, for example, as a ceramics engineer - but it almost to me looked like they went to like a Cornell catalog of engineering and pulled a bunch of degrees back in the day, which does exclude things. My major was biological sciences for undergrad. So sciences and even the, the new category that recommendations it's called biological science. And so you figure liberal arts colleges, women's colleges, perhaps even HBCUs , I've even interviewed students who are at Vanderbilt where they have the technical expertise, but the name of the major is just different than you might get at a state school or a school like Cornell, for example. So then when you started getting into it, can you, can you explain the process of how you started to put the piece together?

Mary Hannon:

So first I knew that I was, if I were going to do this, I needed to have evidence. I needed to have numbers. So I started looking at the statistics about what degrees women are pursuing, what the, what the ratios are, because obviously it's an exclusive system overall, right? It's exclusive to only these people, whether they're men, women, black, white. It is inherently exclusive. I understand that the reason for that is to protect inventors and ensure that they're getting good quality in their patent practitioners. But in researching, I just started to see how arbitrary the lines were and how internally inconsistent the lines were. Where for example, I highlighted in my paper, you could have , again, not denigrating anyone with a textile engineering degree, but you could have a textile engineering degree that gets through Category A, but that does not satisfy the criteria of category B, which is the fallback. So it just didn't make a lot of sense. I never had problem with the system as it's set up. I just had a problem with making it fair, up-to-date, and current. These are so outdated, it's 2021. People are learning science in so many different ways than just a traditional bachelor's degree. People learn through their own independent work and I think there's a lot more to the job than just knowing the science. I'm a chemist, I have a Master's in chemistry, but the whole point of it being innovation is that you don't [know anything yet about it], it's brand new. A lot of the time you have the foundation of science, but I don't know exactly my inventor's invention, I have to learn t oo. So I think more of it is [that] you have this passion for learning and challenging yourself and doing independent research. We all have to do our own research to bring ourselves up to speed on the topic or the science before we can really talk with inventors in a meaningful way. So I think that's the more important skill. I know some people in the, in the conversations have talked about, "let's get rid of the system and just say, any attorney in good standing can do it." And I agree with that to an extent, but also having been a patent agent, I worry that would, get rid of the whole patent a gent side, if we required it just to be an attorney in good standing. Unless, we added it in addition to that where patent agents could still exist and any attorney in good standing. So there are a lot of ways to think about it. And I'm really excited by the conversation of people having a ton of different ideas that I never had that are way better than I had to make it better. Because, looking back now and having talked to enough people, I realized my solutions that I propose are very moderate. They are not that extreme, [for example] expand Category A, which we are in talks of doing or, ework category B and things like that.

Kimberlynn Davis:

So what I would say about the solutions that you propose is that they caught the attention of those who can make the changes because they are realistic solutions. You didn't go for something so extreme that they said, "You know, what? This is not possible. We're never going to be able to do this. Door's shut, don't even reopen it." You've opened the door for the further expansion. So own that number one; the second, did you get an A in that class?

Mary Hannon:

I did.

:

I mean, after all of the publicity that has been generated around it and to get responses from the patent office , after the senators demanded to hear more about this. So, I'm glad. I'm happy with your professor, that they realize the importance of your work. I want to touch on one, something that you mentioned early on about your initial exposure to patent law. So you had the background needed to check the boxes, as I like to say so that you q ualify, but it was an issue of exposure for you, right? It was that moment when your f riend said, "Hey, this option is out here." M ary, what can we do as practitioners to make sure that we're exposing other, be it the undergraduate s tudent realizing that I don't want to be a doctor or a dentist, or should we even target earlier in the process so that we can alert everyone about this alternative career to being a medical doctor?

Mary Hannon:

It's both, I think that's the biggest thing is from a lot of the conversations I've had with people is that this is a career you fall into. It's not a career. You go start undergrad thinking, "Oh, I'm going to go be a patent attorney." You know, there are people that are like that, but they have been exposed to it. So if you're going to go and be a scientist, because you want to do science, this [lawyer] is not a career really on your radar. So I think it's both exposing, younger people, maybe in high school or middle school, about these jobs , which is, something we have to work on together to do. And also just being more present, present in universities. Because quite frankly, at least in my experience, I felt that my professors who had gone to academia, they'd gotten their PhDs and then gone back to be professors. You look at them as an undergraduate and you're like, they they're all knowing they know everything, but they don't. I'm not going to denigrate any of my professors. I love them all. But they all followed the same path, right? So they know med school is an option, but they, I never heard this from any professor that patent law was an option. The first time I heard about it was in my polymer chemistry class in grad school, where my professor mentioned that you could be an expert witness in a patent trial. And that was the first time I had ever heard about patents in class. So it's just something that's not promoted or, and I don't know the reason for that. I think that's something the whole system needs to work collectively to do.

April Abele Isaacson:

Well. It's interesting because I didn't even have an idea about patent law until I was in graduate school. And I had decided I wanted to go to law school and one of the postdocs sort of off the cuff said, "Oh, you could go be a patent lawyer." And I didn't even know what that meant. And I was like, "Oh, okay. Yeah. Sounds great." One of the other things too, to your point, and maybe to Kim's question is I'd been thinking about it in conjunction with this is now going back to my college, which is a women's college with, I think it's 28 or more percent of the graduates have STEM degrees and doing a presentation on a panel to expose them to the option of having patent law as a career. Because I certainly wasn't aware of that. And I think maybe things like that and going earlier in the pipeline, even if it's science fairs would be a great way for us to try to work this out. And that makes me want to pivot to, I don't think we even need to name the author or what the publication is, but someone equated this movement to lowering the bar. Do you have any comments to that?

Mary Hannon:

I will just say I have never suggested lowering the bar. I have only talked about expanding it to increase access to this inherently exclusive system. And none of my suggestions would compromise the system or compromise the quality. People who criticized it initially upfront , I hope that they would read the whole thing [paper], but, maybe they saw something that they disagreed with and I feel like their eyes glazed over and missed some of the finer points. A lot of my solutions would increase access to men too . I'm not saying [and] I never suggested that, my solutions would solve the gender gap where it's going to increase the number of men as well as women applying. And that was my goal, as long as we're increasing access to women and minorities can kind of get in with less burden of going through category B. I've just [heard] so many stories about - I think we've all heard those. Especially when you've been a scientist or been out of school for, five, 10 years, going back to get catalogs from the same year that you took a class to submit to the patent office to just prove - it's just m ind b oggling. Of course I'm not suggesting lowering the bar. I'm not suggesting we make it easier well I s uggested we make it easier. But you know what I mean, I'm not suggesting we lower the bar to lower any standards just to get women in the door. So those [comments] are just kind of unfounded and off the cuff statements that aren't true or aren't supported.

April Abele Isaacson:

Well, two points I have to that: one person I talked to who's male who works at our firm is a colleague. He went to Tulane and because of [Hurricane] Katrina, all of the course documents that he would be able to use to fit into category B have been completely demolished. So he has no ability to go back and actually do that to your point. And the other thing that really resonates with me is , I know you had talked about nursing and I believe the article I'm referring to said something to the effect of, I don't think anybody who's a patent practitioner would be okay with someone with a nursing degree, having the ability to take the patent bar. Well, I'm a registered patent attorney and I have no issue with a woman with a nursing degree or man eligible to take the patent bar. So it was a very interesting point.

Kimberlynn Davis:

My take on your proposals and the whole note, it just further shows your devotion to client service. In my opinion, you are aimed on pairing the best possible practitioner with the inventors who need that specific expertise to make sure that their idea is effectively protected. That's how I viewed your proposal. And like you're protecting our inventors there and making sure that they get the service that they deserve. So again, kudos to you. I am so happy that you have thick skin and can ignore comments that just don't apply. And you realize that, "you know what, I get it, you don't fully understand what my angle is here and that's okay. But here's my angle." It's such a better response without would have given so well.

Mary Hannon:

It's so funny because obviously, based on the story that I've told, I think it's clear that I never intended this. I didn't even think this was going to be published. I didn't even go into this, thinking about what kind of criticism I get, because I never thought anyone would read it. So at first I think that the criticism hurt me a little bit, but also I got enough positive feedback that really kind of made me reframe it. As soon as I read the article and I was like, "Oh, this sucks." And then you read like the 200 comments and you're, "Oh, this sucks even more." But then you see the people that are on your side and kind of are a lot stronger and make a lot more valid points than the people that were upset by it. It's a whirlwind the couple months after it [paper] published was just like, "What? This is unbelievable." Like getting people emailing me. April emailed me, people I've never would ever have crossed paths paths with. So I think that kind of outweighs all the negativity of it all.

April Abele Isaacson:

To Kim's point into some things that you said earlier. I mean, you really have created this momentum. Think about it. You were, I think you were 29 at the time that this was happening just now 30, you have senators writing to the Patent Office, quoting from your article demanding change. And then you have the Director of the USPTO responding to that letter saying that there's going to be, an investigation or work on this issue. And now you have the Federal Register, having the comments that are, by the way, anybody who's listening, I believe the date is May 24th for submitting comments. So we would absolutely recommend everybody to do so. We will put the link to that in our show notes, but you have, now this, this there's movement to change the Category A and comment on it, which our firm is going to do. I know your prior firm is going to do so as well. How do you feel about all of this that you have created? It, it's just phenomenal to me, like I said, as someone who's, you know, 26 years ahead of you in your career and you have the rest of your career ahead of you,

Mary Hannon:

It's unbelievable. With all the emails I got, the craziest one was to get one from Senator Hirono, her counsel. Because before they wrote the letter, I spoke with her counsel and he is great. He was like, "okay, this is what I think we're going to do," because he was a former IP litigator as well before this. So he appreciated the issue and it's right up her alley as well. So he told me kind of how that all happened with the Law360 article that came out right when my draft from SSRN published or was released. My professor had encouraged me to publish. He's like, "post a draft on SSRN so that I can at least send out that link to my people to kind of get their feedback and you get credit for having views or things, if you ever wanted to be a professor or something." So I posted it there. And then a few months later [the paper] was released and that's when the first Law360 article came out and that he told me the Senator, her and his counsel, told me that article and that link to my draft was passed to him from Senator Tillis's counsel and was like, "Hey, I think Senator Hirono is going to be really interested in this." That kind of caused that whole thing to tumble. I spoke with him for about an hour [at the] end of September, I want to say. And then he [shared] that she's [Senator Hirono] gonna write a letter. He kept me involved in the whole process. I reviewed a draft of the letter before they sent it to the [USPTO] Director and all of that. It was really cool to be a part of that. And I remember sitting at my phone, I think it was on a Friday afternoon just looking at my email and my jaw just dropped. I looked to my boyfriend [and said] look at this email. I couldn't believe it. I mean, I really couldn't believe it because this was a class, a paper that I wrote for class and I just wanted an A. , It's just crazy the life it's taken.

April Abele Isaacson:

That's amazing. I know Senator Hirono, she's an attorney herself and is very involved in making sure women's issues are addressed. I think it's fabulous that you have this bipartisan committee, a subcommittee on intellectual property really moving this forward and demanding action. And it's all because of you.

Mary Hannon:

It is because of this paper but I relied on so many resources of people that came before me and people have been talking about this for years. The study that I cited about the gender gap was from 2014 or something like maybe 2013, 2014. So people have been talking about it and they deserve just as much credit. I think that my paper came at the perfect time. The timing was the key aspect to this whole thing. Their work is just as phenomenal and should be referenced just as much as mine is because they've really pinpointed the issue and talked about kind of how this, these changes really will advance the ball in the whole innovative system. And that's kind of the USPTO is working on as a whole, right? With getting diversity in inventorship as well. I think we need to have it on both sides inventorship and the Patent Bar to really get there.

April Abele Isaacson:

You seized the moment. The article that I believe you're referring to from 2014 is what I went back to look at to see what the statistics were in terms of percentage of women who were members of the patent bar. Back when I took it in 2002, which was around 20%. Was it surprising to you to see that it hasn't really changed very much since the late eighties up until now, 2021?

Mary Hannon:

I wish it was surprising, but I'm not that surprised. When you look at the statistics of women in law, more generally you see minority attorneys generally has not really advanced in any meaningful way. Just the same way with diversity and inventorship, hasn't [risen]. The USPTO said it's an all-time high of 13.2% or something like that. I'm probably butchering the number, but so I wish I was surprised, but honestly, I don't think I was as surprised that it hadn't changed that much, especially because the criteria haven't changed.

Kimberlynn Davis:

So now I'm curious , what's next for Mary? Just know that I I've gotten a small snippet into what your future holds and in typical Mary fashion you're expanding your skillset . So tell , our listeners about what we can look forward to.

Mary Hannon:

Oh my gosh. I have a lot of goals , career goals, very lofty goals that I don't think will ever or are realistic, but I'm still, I still think about them. So I'll be starting as an associate - I'm switching to IP litigation. I've done four years of prosecution and I do enjoy prosecution. I wanted to try also just try litigation. I'll be going to Sidley and working in their IP litigation group and we'll see how it goes. I'm really excited to kind of get some new opportunities. Obviously I'm going to stay busy, I'm sure between work and then I'll find something else to kind of fill in whatever gap time I have left. I'm looking to maybe clerk eventually don't know exactly where if that's going to be kind of a district court level or maybe a federal circuit or we'll see. So I have a lot of career goals and ambitions. I don't know what's to come, but I'll keep pushing through.

Kimberlynn Davis:

Love it and so fearless, right? The thought of leaving the safety net net, if you will, of what you've been doing the last four years and venturing out. I mean , because think about it, you could start as an associate and I'm not trying to change it back over to prosecution.

April Abele Isaacson:

Kim, we got her for now, so let's let her do it.

Kimberlynn Davis:

So I'll end on that note, but just keep in mind that that's an awesome skill set, but no, I love, love, love, everything about what you just said. You planted some seeds.

April Abele Isaacson:

And I just have to say, for Sidley, they're so lucky to have you coming in. Not only because of this moment that we're in and what you've done to really help move the ball forward, but just, you're just an outstanding woman with your whole legal career ahead of you. And I'm just so absolutely excited for you. You know, I really hope that 20, 25 years from now, we don't have to be having this discussion anymore. I actually think about one of our colleagues Anne Tang. She has a little daughter who's I think is eight. And she went to a Halloween party dressed as a pilot. And someone said, you know, you're dressed like a boy. And she said, no, I'm dressed like a pilot. You know? I'm hoping that the little girls are going to start to realize that they can be empowered and your generation certainly has been able to do that. I think more than mine as a Gen X-er. And I'm just hoping from the generations forward that we'll really be able to do that. I can't even tell you how much we have appreciated having your time.

Kimberlynn Davis:

Mary, you found your voice, right. Be it intentionally or unintentionally, you found it and you are using it. What advice do you have for those who haven't yet found their voice or are afraid to fully express what they need to be heard in this world?

Mary Hannon:

Tough question. I think you've just got to trust your instincts and do what you need to do for yourself. I think five years ahead from now, if you had this opportunity and you didn't jump on it, how would you think about that? It would suck if you have the perfect time and the perfect moment in front of you, and you're too nervous to take it, you're going to regret that later. And so again, mine was very unintentional to get where I am, but I'm so grateful for having done this. Having listened to my professor who encouraged me to publish and I could have easily just said, no, it's like too much work to have to kind of work and tweak and revise the article. I just wrote this for class. It could have been done and dead there. And then where would we be? We wouldn't have this podcast, for example. So I think you've just got to kind of trust yourself and trust your instincts and trust the people around you ask, ask the people you admire for feedback and see what they think and take that. If it's negative feedback, take with a grain of salt, don't let that stop you. I feel like such an imposter. I have such an imposter syndrome with this whole thing, you know? For me to give advice to people, it just seems so crazy to me because it just kind of fell in my lap. I feel like I didn't do anything to get here. Well, I wrote the paper and I put it out there, but then everything that's come since - I've been passive in the whole thing. People have been reaching out to me and I've just been like, "Okay, yeah, let's talk." It's crazy to be in this position now where I'm being asked this question, to be honest,

April Abele Isaacson:

I think it just goes to your humility and we always perceive ourselves differently than others do. Because I reached out to you and I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh, I feel like I just landed the Oprah guest." And [in your mind you are] "Oh, I'm just doing me." It's just a really phenomenal thing. I cannot tell you enough how inspiring you are to people throughout different generations. And that you've really helped move the ball forward. I have hope for the future and you are so inspirational and I know you are humble and don't even realize it, but you truly have inspired so many people to start really having the dialogue. And I can say, even on our end, the men within our firm or friends of ours who are listening to the podcast and appreciating that dialogue that we're having in this moment was all started because of the work that you put forward in this moment. Thank you so much for your time. I know we will keep in touch with you. As Kim mentioned, I know you're going to have an absolutely fabulous career. I can't wait to watch it as it unfolds. And thank you.

Mary Hannon:

Oh my gosh. Thank you guys for having me. I'm just so honored to be here both April and Kim. I've loved it. I'm excited to have friends for lives with you guys. So thank you.

Kimberlynn Davis:

Oh my goodness. I'm a fan!

Mary Hannon:

I'm a fan of you guys.

April Abele Isaacson:

Well, it's one of the things I talked to you about Mary and I know Kim and others we've talked about it is I look at it as women, we're here to support each other. I don't look at you as working at a different firm as a competitor. It's the sisterhood of the tribe and anything we can do to make each other's career better or people's lives better. I just think that is really important and you certainly are making that happen.

Mary Hannon:

And that's so big for me too. I'm really excited to have the opportunity to talk with you guys and know that I could come talk to you, ask you questions about, okay, what do I do?

April Abele Isaacson:

Oh yeah. You're, you're stuck with us now.

Kimberlynn Davis:

Feel free to reach out and I'll be bugging you too seriously.

Mary Hannon:

Same. Just reach out. I mean, even if you just need a chat.

April Abele Isaacson:

That's why I look at it as this is like a sisterhood. And then we've just created some new bonds and you're a relationship person. So are we, and we'll just keep those relationships growing and we can grow our tribe. So thank you again. I really appreciate it. Thank you for joining us today. If you enjoyed Sidebars, we invite you to check out the Kilpatrick Townsend Medicine and Molecules blog on kilpatricktownsend.com to read, watch, and listen to other related insight on patent law. We'll also put that information in the show notes. The opinions expressed on this podcast are own and are not those of Kilpatrick Townsend.

Kimberlynn Davis:

Also, we would love it. If you would rate us or leave a review, it helps others find the show. See you next time.