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Julie Crisford

Julie Crisford is an Intellectual Property Strategist and owner of Duon IP Strategy.

julie crisfordWhere do you work?
I work in many places, primarily at Victoria Link – Victoria University of Wellington’s technology commercialisation office. The team there works to connect business/ industry and the university’s research and researchers through commercial partnerships.

I also regularly work with Creative HQ, Wellington’s local business incubator. They run a variety of programmes, including the Lightning Lab business accelerator. I help their businesses learn about intellectual property (IP).

At the moment, I also work one day a week managing the IP programme at another Wellington business which specializes in selling scientific instruments.

I work at all these places as a contractor, through my business, Duon IP. This gives me the ability to work with a number of companies long term, as their IP Manager, when they might not need a full time person in this role. It also gives me the flexibility to work with smaller companies such as those in Creative HQ and Lightning Lab in more of a mentor and education role.

What do you do on an average work day?
As the IP manager, I manage the process of protecting intellectual property of the company I am working with through copyright, patents, trade marks and design registrations. I work with external law firms to help protect intellectual property. The external law firm may write the contract or patent, but I work internally within the organization to make sure that the protection is aligned with the plans for the R&D project internally in the organisation. I help explain the process to R&D and scientist staff, and make sure that we supply enough information to the lawyers.

I also work with commercial project managers on each new R&D project to help research the patent literature and see what competitors are doing. We want to make sure we’re not wasting time re-inventing the wheel!

Lastly, I work to increase understanding of intellectual property through education of executives and research staff. This involves a lot of mentoring and talking to people about the ins and outs of IP and how you can protect things, and what that is useful for.

What did you study at school? And after high school?
At high school I studied languages (French and Māori) and sciences (Chemistry, Physics, Maths). After high school I went to Victoria University of Wellington and got a Bachelor (Hons) of Science and Technology in Electronics.

From there, I got a job at a patent attorney firm. To become a registered patent attorney in New Zealand, you must work under a current patent attorney (like an apprenticeship) and pass six exams set by the Institute of Patent Attorneys. Once you are registered in New Zealand, you can apply for registration in Australia too under mutual recognition laws.

Was your study directly related to what you do now?
I didn’t know it at the time, but yes! All patent specialists generally have a science background, as they need to understand their clients’ inventions. This could be in a biotech area, pharmaceutical, mechanical engineering or – my initial area – electronics and software. The understanding of the law is a specialist area, so you do that training after your science education.

Of course, now I work for a university, I am not a specialist in one science area as I was when I worked in a law firm. In one day I can discuss areas as varied as about DNA, xrays, proteins used as sensors, brain chemistry and cancer drugs. I need to understand the scientific process and have an understanding of science. I need to be able to ask intelligent questions, but I don’t need to deeply understand every single area – we leave this to the specialist external patent attorneys.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
Keep doing and trying things you are interested in. Everything you learn builds valuable and useful skills and it may be in areas that you don’t expect.

For me, sometimes my involvement in volunteer organisations I work in as part of an interest group outside of work have lead to meeting people who have helped me a lot in my work. At high school I was also involved in sports, dancing, and performing arts. 

Today, some of the most valuable skills I use everyday are communication skills, organisation and prioritisation skills and the ability to maintain good relationships with everyone I work with. Any gaps I have in knowledge, I can look up, but the ability to get on with people, communicate clearly, have people trust me and my knowledge and get everyone to work well together is essential.

What are some of your career highlights so far?
Moving into working for myself and being able to chose the projects I work on has been great. I also really like the opportunity to teach and give guest lectures and presentations. It’s always great meeting new people who are interested in what you do and being able to help them with an area they find difficult to understand.

Why do you believe engaging in STEM – whether it’s working in the field, studying it or just educating one’s self around the issues – is important to New Zealand?
I think skills that you develop during studying STEM subjects to be useful in all parts of life and business.  Skills such as research, understanding limitations of studies, understanding how to assess whether your experiment leads to reliable and repeatable outcomes, and testing hypotheses rather than relying on your assumptions are the kind of things that you can use in all situations, whether in a certain job or in life or in business in general.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
Because as Professor Shaun Hendy once said (and I’m paraphrasing) – if you want to grow a great knowledge based economy, it’s best to have the maximum amount of talent to use, not only 50% of that.

Julie Crisford is an Intellectual Property Strategist and owner of Duon IP Strategy.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM. 
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