Attorney encourages women leadership in IP

Sangeeta Shah is accustomed to being the only female patent attorney in the room.

But she is working to change that.

The Brooks Kushman attorney is one of the four founding organizers of the newly formed Chicago Regional Chapter of Chiefs in Intellectual Property (ChIPS). The national organization focuses on advancing and connecting women in the fields of technology, law and policy.

Established in 2005 in Silicon Valley by seven women chiefs of intellectual property as an informal dinner group, ChIPS now has more than 3,000 members and nine regional chapters. The group organizes events to build relationships, inspire and empower women in technology careers and also provides a forum to educate and connect professional women from different backgrounds to discuss key issues surrounding innovation. A primary mission of the group is to encourage and motivate the next generation of women leaders in law, technology and government.

Shah, who is the chief diversity officer at Brooks Kushman, has been a member of ChIPS for three years.

Historically underrepresented at senior levels of legal and other professions, women have been even more scarce in the area of patents and intellectual property in part because there is a foundational lack of women pursuing degrees in science and engineering fields followed by legal degrees.

The trend of women entering technology fields has flattened out, according to Shah.

“The numbers aren’t moving significantly,” she says. “They’re not very encouraging.” Law360’s 2016 Glass Ceiling Report found that women make up only about 25 percent of the attorneys at IP firms and only 19 percent of equity partners.

 The Chicago Regional Chapter of ChIPS, which was launched Feb. 7, intends to address those numbers by turning its focus on what Shah calls the “pipeline.” The pipeline begins by encouraging young girls’ interest in science and technology and continues through to empowering women to advance into senior corporate and law firm positions.

 “The goal is to make sure the pipeline is rich from the beginning,” she says.

 Unlike some young girls, Shah grew up aware of the IP field. Her father was an innovator for Ford who helped develop catalytic technology and held several patents. Shah found she liked science but discovered quickly enough that her passion wasn’t for research and the lab. She wanted to marry her interest in technology with something else. That something else turned out to be patent law.

“I enjoy picking the brains of foremost experts and gaining insight into new technology,” she says. “The work is never stagnant and is always changing.”

She earned a BA in Chemistry and Economics at Kalamazoo College before pursuing a law degree from Wayne State University Law School. She now represents several Fortune 500 clients for whom she provides strategic counseling and guidance on their global intellectual property portfolios.

Being one of few women in her field has provided Shah with insight into the importance group dynamic skills play in navigating a male-dominated profession. She finds distinct communication differences between men and women.

“People do not generally try to exclude you, but people gravitate toward what they know,” she says.

“It is important to gain an understanding of how to find the right voice that is both authentic and effective.”

With initiatives such as ChIPS, Shah hopes to see significant shifts in the number of women entering and leading in the fields of technology and law. She looks forward to bringing together women who may typically work in isolated silos with events that concentrate on education, skill training, and networking.

“The ultimate goal is to get more women in leadership so that it’s no longer a big deal,” she says.

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