Alexandra Dellmeier of LexDellmeier Intellectual Property Office talks about her career in IP and running her own firm.
When did you decide to pursue a career in law?
Rather early, at the age of ten. Being German and having lived in the US from the age of eight to thirteen, I loved watching any TV shows that dealt with legal issues and had lawyers and judges in them. I was so impressed with the role of an attorney-at-law that I decided to become one myself – much to the dissatisfaction of my father at first, a chemist, because he did not like lawyers at all.
Why did you choose IP law?
Out of coincidence, curiosity, and luck. I knew that I wanted to work in an international field of law. However, the fact that I ended up in IP law had to do with the fact that I originally only planned a 3-month internship (which ended up being my part-time job, next to my required clerking until my bar exam two years later) at a renown Munich-based IP firm.
How did you get into the IP profession? Did you experience significant challenges?
On my first day as a legal intern at the Munich IP firm in 1997, I discovered a gigantic shelf of adidas t-shirts, shorts, and jogging suits in the office. I was deeply impressed and immediately ran to one of the partners and said, "I would like to join the firm’s soccer team!" The managing partner looked bewildered and told me that the firm did not have a soccer team. I persisted, "But, I saw the full shelf of sports clothing." I still remember his loud and hilarious laugh. After a moment, he finally explained that they were counterfeits confiscated by the German Customs from a ship coming from Turkey into Hamburg harbour.
So, trademark infringement, counterfeits, and border seizures were my first contacts with IP. I will never forget that first day, which sparked my interest in intellectual property.
Did you work in-house before joining your current firm? If so, which company?
Prior to starting my own firm, LexDellmeier IP Law Firm, in 2009, I was an equity partner at another renowned German IP firm for almost seven years. Another milestone at the very beginning of my career was my in-house position at Merchandising Media AG / PRosiebenSat.1 AG, a German TV station and merchandising company. Heading the art licensing and IP department at a multi-national company significantly broadened my horizon and understanding, especially with respect to business issues on a global basis.
How have you found the transition from in-house to private practice? Or, in terms of your experiences, what would you say is the key difference between working in-house and working in private practice?
Working in-house requires more in-depth knowledge of internal strategy as well as business issues. The fun aspect of working in-house is that you usually work together with different teams and departments (marketing, sales, accounting, etc.). Working at a law firm, you can usually concentrate more on legal issues and advise the client regarding specific questions they have regarding prosecuting or litigating IP.
Why do you enjoy IP work?
In a nutshell, I love IP! It is extremely interesting and challenging to work internationally on different aspects of IP law. In addition, I am able to use my bilingual language skills in English and German. I very much enjoy working with international clients and colleagues from around the world.
What career advice would you give to women interested in joining the IP profession?
Do at least a 3-month internship with an IP firm dealing with international clients and potentially try to get "your foot in the door" at that firm. Also, be sure your oral and written English skills are really, really good. Approximately 70 – 80% of all IP work is conducted in English. This means that you will also have telephone and Teams/Zoom calls with international clients. Having profound English skills is key to communication with clients, IP offices, courts, and colleagues. It is also helpful to get an LL.M. in IP law (usually a one year course) from a university in the UK or USA. Many firms seek such an additional qualification in IP before you start your first job nowadays.
What advice would you give anyone thinking about setting up and running their own firm?
You need entrepreneurial skills, including being good with numbers and making business decisions quickly. You need to love what you do, treat your clients and staff really well, be well organised, and be ready to work hard and sometimes long hours.
When did you set up your firm?
Why did you decide to start your own firm?
It was a very simple decision: I was frustrated. Most German IP firms are predominantly headed and run by male partners. Most German law firms, if they have female partners at all, have a female partner percentage of on average 10 to maximum 25%. Even though I was tough enough to become an equity partner at an IP firm with approximately 100 employees, I was not happy with how things worked.
I thought I could do it better. I hoped I could do it better. I believe I am doing it better now, but I guess it is for our clients, colleagues and team members to judge this.
What challenges did you face when setting up the firm?
I started the firm in 2009, in the midst of a financial and economic crisis. My clients (and admittedly, I too) were shocked at first and saw the global financial crisis as something life-threatening and frightening. Not knowing what the future would bring was a crucial experience, both personally and with respect to my clients’ businesses. The whole issue and the magnitude of the impact took us all by surprise.
How did you overcome those challenges?
The financial crisis, in essence, had similar impacts as the COVID pandemic from 2020 to 2022.
The core question was: How do you tackle such a global crisis? As an optimist, you will realise that any crisis creates opportunities. Whether it is the opportunity to gain market share, renegotiate contracts, buy a competitor, or start your own IP law firm, as I did. Being proactive, flexible, and creative is vital in such a situation.
Clients with good financial controls and management were able to take advantage of some of these previously unknown and unforeseen opportunities. All of my clients reviewed or needed to review their expenses; none of them cut budgets in the areas of technology, innovation, product development, branding or design protection, as IP is vital for their business. However, I encouraged my clients to take the time to invest in IP counselling with the goal of improving their overall IP portfolio by making it more strategically aligned and cost-effective.
What was the easiest part of setting up and running your own firm?
Having a vision, a business plan, a fantastic assistant/IP paralegal (that still works for me after 14 years and has attended law school meanwhile), and state-of-the-art technology for managing deadlines, IP renewals, etc. Having almost 10 years of IP experience did not necessarily make it easy, but it made the risk of setting up and running my own law firm manageable.
How do you ensure your firm delivers high-quality services to clients?
All the lawyers and almost all IP professionals and paralegals have dual qualifications in law, IP, and languages. Our staff is extremely well educated, and we have quality control processes in place in order to ensure that each client is served according to their needs and wishes in a cost-effective manner.
How would you describe the culture of your firm?
We are international, open-minded, hard-working, friendly, supportive, and fun to work with. Approximately 50% of our IP team work in our office premises in the centre of Munich, Germany. The other 50% usually work from home. Because we work hybrid, we make an effort to meet in person every few weeks and go out for lunch, dinner or drinks. We also organise special events, e.g. get-togethers with clients or, an internal spa and strategy meeting over the weekend, where we take the time to discuss the newest changes in IP law, client needs and expectations and also just spend time together.
If you have corporate social responsibility initiatives in your firm, please briefly tell us about one or two of them, why you have them, and the impact or achievement(s).
Twice a year, we offer 3- to 6-month IP traineeships. We accept students still in law school with a bachelor's or master's degree in law. At least once a year, we work together with the European Law Students Association (ELSA), where students can apply for the traineeship.
Over the past 14 years, we have had approximately 20–25 legal interns from around the world. Currently, we have an intern, a young woman, from Istanbul, Turkey.
We see it as our obligation to give young law students the opportunity to gain work experience at a law firm. And we very much enjoy working with bright, young talents.
We also support Ukrainian refugees. Our firm and individual team members have been supporting Ukrainian refugees since the war began in February 2022. We have given our law firm’s apartment to Ukrainian refugees and have supported them by helping them with paperwork for administrative purposes, organising language courses, preparing job applications, etc.
What do you enjoy most about running your own firm?
The clients and staff I work with, challenging IP cases,and being able to take quick, decisive decisions as a business owner together with knowledgeable colleagues and team members to the benefit of all involved.
What is your most memorable piece of work as an IP practitioner?
Getting seven marks registered at the German Patent and Trademark Office within 24 hours (this is possible because, as an applicant, you can request expedited examination of your trademark application) and winning an extremely important and prestigious trade mark case for a foreign, well-known car manufacturer.
Could you briefly share two interesting client matters you handled within the past 18 months?
We were able to overturn a case before the European General Court and come to an overall worldwide settlement with the applicant. The case was challenging for mainly two reasons: the previous law firm handling the case had lost the first two instances before the European Union Intellectual Property Office.
As a boutique IP law firm with ten team members, it is challenging to take over large trade mark and design portfolios of 1,500 or more marks at once. A new client challenged us in 2022 to organise the takeover of approximately 1,200 files within two weeks and have all deadlines docketed on our IP docketing system. Due to the technology and the IP administration system we use, the programmers we have access to, and the technical and fundamental expertise we have, we were able to comply with the client’s wish.
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?
The case mentioned above was challenging because it dealt with cryptocurrency and the "metaverse". Some law firms are not familiar with new trends and technologies. Therefore, in order to advise start-ups and clients in the field of cryptocurrency, you need to have a fundamental technical understanding of the issues in order to advise the client from a legal point of view.
We love challenges. So, when we participate in a tender or "IP beauty contest" for a new client, we need to work hard to fulfil the client’s wishes and aims. In the case of taking over 1,200 files, including docketing deadlines within two weeks, this is only possible if you strategically think the matter through and have the technical know-how to get this challenging task done.
What qualities and skills are required to do your job?
You need expert legal knowledge in IP, enthusiasm, creativity, business acumen, and a passion for trade marks, branding, designs, technology, and innovation. The ability to listen to clients’ needs, strong communication and language skills, as well as "thinking outside the box" are important attributes too.
What key principles do you follow or use to deliver the best possible outcome for a client?
Passion: We love what we do.
Excellence: Our work reflects our best efforts, never less.
Communication: Quick, clear, and effective communication is what we provide.
Integrity: Honesty and trustworthiness are what we stand for at LexDellmeier.
Teamwork: We believe the best client results are achieved through teamwork.
Creativity: Thinking outside the box, and solving complex problems with creative, cost-effective solutions.
Diversity: We treat everyone with respect, fairness, and courtesy.
What if things don’t go according to plan, what keeps you going or motivated?
Support and help from co-workers help solve the problem, or just a big hug from my husband or sons when I come home from work.
What are the key challenges and opportunities in the next decade for firms in your jurisdiction and/or region?
Challenges include finding motivated, interested, and well-educated young lawyers and IP professionals. As for opportunities, due to the technological evolution, we have already made it possible for any and all team members with a sense of adventure to work from anywhere they want. The use of state-of-the-art technology will help young professionals with children to continue to pursue their career – also on a part-time basis.
As the firm’s leader, what is your top priority for next year?
Keeping clients and staff happy.
Are you working on any interesting projects outside your firm? If so, please tell us a little bit about the project and why you care about it?
Having a husband, 24-year-old twin sons, and a dog, as well as running a firm and supporting law students and Ukrainian refugees, does not leave a lot of time for many other projects. I am not "superwoman". There are boundaries to the time and effort you can invest to make sure you stay healthy and well.
What is your favourite food or sport?
All Italian and Japanese food. Ice-skating and dancing.
What is your favourite hobby?
Sailing, swimming, and bike riding.
Could you share a fun and interesting fact about you?
Some team members believe I have a crystal ball beneath my desk, which, by the way, is not the case. I guess I have a good instinct for certain situations and can sometimes read someone’s mind. I just use my common sense and can put two and two together. I guess that I trained myself by reading too many mystery books and novels when I was young. The funny thing is, whenever something I foresaw becomes reality, family members, clients, or team members do approach me and say, "You knew and foresaw it!" My reaction is to just smile.
Alexandra Dellmeier is the founder of LexDellmeier Intellectual Property Office, a boutique IP firm based in Munich, Germany. Dellmeier specialises in trade mark, design and copyright work.
Managing IP has a long and proud history of supporting diversity in the IP profession.
Apart from reporting on important news and providing insights, Managing IP has also used its platforms and position in the industry to promote and showcase diverse talent in the IP community. For example, Managing IP has hosted or supported events for women in IP and business law since 2011 and supported the creation of IP Inclusive, the UK's leading diversity initiative for the IP profession.
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