Camilla Rendal Nielsen of Zacco talks about her career in patent law, an interesting client matter in the past 18 months, key principles when dealing with clients, and life outside work.
When did you decide to pursue a career in law?
It was part chance and part coincidence. I was in an engineering role and took a very hands-on approach to process development even though I am not always a practical person. Encountering IP, I saw an opportunity to engage with the latest technological developments, but less involved in their practical implementation. I had wanted to explore something different and it seemed like an interesting area to pursue.
Why did you choose IP law?
One of the reasons it seemed like a good career choice was that I had considered journalism or law when I was younger before I chose to become an engineer. IP law seemed like a good idea because it allowed me to combine law and technology as well as the opportunity to write about them and to continue to work with them.
How did you get into the IP profession? Did you experience significant challenges?
As I say, it was part ‘right place, right time’ and I am happy to say that I have never looked back. In the world of IP, our colleagues are highly skilled and have always been a pleasure to work with, drawing on a range of technical skills from across the spectrum, each person bringing a new perspective. It also means that I have been fortunate in never experiencing a challenge significant enough that I have not been able to overcome it.
Did you work in-house before joining your current firm? If so, which company?
I worked in-house with one of the major car manufacturers in Germany for three years, working with the latest technology within software and electronics for 'intelligent' cars. It was definitely an exciting time to be a part of it because this was around the time when the development of the ‘intelligent’ car was really starting to take off.
Why and/or how did you join your current firm?
When I returned from Canada, I reached out to an old mentor of mine. This was someone I had known from when I first began working in IP and they introduced me to Zacco. I had also heard of Zacco previously from other old colleagues so I was very pleased when I joined the firm.
What do you enjoy most about working for your firm?
It is never boring! I work alongside some exceptionally talented IP colleagues in some of the most exciting traditional and emerging areas of technology. There is plenty of opportunity to share knowledge and ideas so there is always something new and interesting to learn. We also have some excellent clients, many of whom need both strategic advice and technical expertise so that keeps me motivated to do my best for them.
What makes your role/work fulfilling? Why do you enjoy IP work?
I enjoy working alongside a range of clients. Zacco operates at the forefront of innovation so we also need to be aware of the wider technological advancements and the environment within which our clients operate. I am quite curious about what technology is going to look like in the future so I enjoy being able to work with putting it into words, when drafting prosecutions and arguing cases. It is demanding, but is still a lot of fun.
I know that I am contributing in my own small way to the advancement of both Scandinavian and international IP industry and I am helping my clients, large and small, to develop and secure protections for their inventions. It is a pleasure to watch many of these companies as they grow, using IP rights as an integral tool in their continued expansion.
What career advice would you give to women interested in joining the IP profession and getting to your position?
Just do it! Intellectual property is a very open profession with people from all backgrounds, skills, and abilities. IP comes in many forms and that means a need for diversity in thinking and approach. Zacco consists of around 49% women within the business so it is a pretty even split but I think, generally, we are not alone in these numbers. IP has always been a progressive profession where diversity is required, rather than just being supported.
What is your most memorable piece of work as an IP practitioner?
Fortunately, there have been quite a few. I still enjoy it every time a particularly broad patent is granted, or when a patent has been difficult to grant. I also enjoy the collaboration with the clients, getting them the right protection. So there is not a single memorable piece of work, luckily there have been many.
Could you briefly share two interesting client matters you handled within the past 18 months?
Opposition work is always interesting, defending patent rights and knowing that what you have done has made a difference. In terms of clients, I do a lot of work with medical device technology and many of these have been interesting to work on. It is exciting to know that the patent you are working on will raise the competitive stakes for an organisation as well as have the potential to improve quality of life.
Another one would have to be about a small start-up that had a commendable mission of bringing clean drinking water to rural African communities using UV sterilisation. Working closely alongside the small team, we explored patent and trade mark options and commercial viability to ensure they were in a good position going live with their products. That was a rewarding experience, guiding some innovative minds on how to think practically when it comes to the protection and development of their ideas.
Did you find any part of the work you have just described uniquely challenging? If so, what were the challenges, and how did you overcome them?
Nothing uniquely challenging as such, there are often time constraints so it may be necessary to move quickly but this should be expected with some patent ideas.
What qualities and skills are required to do your job?
Curiosity and analytical skills are fundamental; you need the ability to see the practical issues in the client’s ideas but also their potential. Beyond those, quality is important because the IP will undoubtedly be tested when the products get to market, so drafting needs to be watertight. The ability to still get excited by ideas and a passion for what we do certainly doesn’t hurt either.
What key principles do you follow or use to deliver the best possible outcome(s) for a client?
Developing a comprehensive understanding of our clients' business goes a long way in helping us to defend their interests. Understanding how innovation is identified, captured, and developed internally, as well as how an organisation will make use of its IP, is integral to being able to provide quality advice and guidance. We are committed to our clients so we will always strive to do our best.
What if things don’t go or aren’t going according to plan, what keeps you going or motivated?
Knowing that we are contributing to innovation is a key factor. With all new ideas, there will be some successes and some failures but every idea has merit, some are simply ahead of their time, others might not be financially viable. That does not make them bad ideas.
Having said that, I take quite a positive approach generally, and if things are not going to plan, I tend to dig in and work through the potential challenges as they arise. I enjoy solving problems, and sometimes working quickly to get back ‘on plan’ or solve issues another way can be very exciting.
Are you working on any interesting project(s) outside your firm? If so, please tell us a little bit about the project and why you care about it
I regularly lecture on patent matters and am passionate about encouraging those who wish to pursue a career in IP law. I am also treasurer of the board for the Association of Danish Patent Attorneys (ADIPA).
What is your favourite food and sport?
I love to bake sourdough bread so that is definitely a favourite. As for sports, that is a tough one. I really enjoy going open-water swimming or biking but, generally, anything outdoors is a favourite.
What is your favourite hobby?
It would have to be a mix between baking and the outdoors.
Could you share a fun and interesting fact about yourself?
I have completed five Olympic distance triathlons and, surprisingly, I still have plans for more.
Camilla Rendal Nielsen is a European patent attorney who specialises in electronics, software, photonics and medical devices. She was recently appointed as Zacco's Patent Director, Denmark & Germany. Read more about Nielsen here.