From 2013-2015 Professor Colleen Chien served in the Obama White House as a Senior Advisor, Intellectual Property and Innovation, working on a broad range of patent, copyright, technology transfer, open innovation, educational innovation, and other issues.
She created the widely-adopted term Patent Assertion Entities to describe businesses that use patents primarily to obtain licensing fees rather than to support the development or transfer of technology. She was named one of the 50 most influential people in intellectual property in the world, and is the recipient of the American Law Institute Early Career medal.
Professor Chien is currently a Professor at Santa Clara University School of Law where she teaches, writes, and mentors students. She is nationally known for her empirical research and publications on intellectual property law and policy issues. She is also a visiting Fellow at the Stanford Computational Policy Lab.
I caught up with Professor Chien to talk about her career in innovation and IP and find out more about what inspires her.
Would you be able to tell us a bit about your career to date?
Ever since reading "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert M. Pirsig in high school computer science class, I’ve been inspired by the idea of working to ensure that science, technology, and innovation live up to their potential to make life better for all. I started in engineering because it felt practical and the best way to make a difference, and during college, focused on energy and the environment.
But over time, I gained skills in social studies, journalism, business, and then law. This helped me see that many skills and perspectives are needed to advance science and technology for good.
What was the biggest takeaway from your time as Senior Advisor, Intellectual Property and Innovation at the White House?
I had the privilege of working alongside policy entrepreneurs of all ages and walks of life and learned how to get things done. Many of these lessons are distilled in this article written by science and technology policy guru (and mentor) Thomas Kalil, who advanced the BRAIN initiative, White House Grand Challenges and Maker Movement, amongst many other initiatives.
How did you come up with the term ‘patent assertion entities’?
For a period of time, when I met people working in technology and told them I worked in patents, they would start to get upset, and tell me a bad story of having been sued by someone who was not making anything, just suing them.
It was not until we could measure the phenomenon of patent assertion entities (PAE) lawsuits that we could move away from anecdotal evidence to understand the magnitude of the issue. To measure something, you needed to be able to define it. That definition was missing and so I came up with the term.
Has your background in engineering affected how you approach the IP industry?
It made me appreciate and love data and analysis, which has translated into me becoming an empirical researcher.
Which woman innovator has most inspired you along your journey?
Florence Nightingale - a nurse, statistician, and social change agent who developed visualisations in the War of Crimea to show that British soldiers were not dying of battle wounds, but poor hospital hygiene. Her revelatory coxcomb depictions paved the path for better hospital sanitation.
Have you or are you currently doing any research around women in IP? If so what does your research indicate?
I am doing work now that looks at the interplay between race and gender, as well as immigration and setting, in patented innovation. If we want to achieve equal opportunity in innovation, a shared goal of many, it is important to understand how different factors impact who participates.
What is your advice to women starting their own IP careers?
Figure out what motivates you and carve out time, even just a little bit, to cultivate that interest. Also, don’t be afraid to delegate (I don't cook most of the food my family eats) and find your allies. IP work is so fascinating and fun, but also demanding, so it is important to find your tribe, cultivate other interests, and balance your work.