IP and innovation inclusion takes a village: a Meta perspective

When I fled hurricane-torn Jamaica for New York City in the late 1980s, I arrived on streets that were not paved with gold, but with poverty, hunger and systemic oppression. As a Black teenager, I was marginalised because of the colour of my skin and set on a path to incarceration and deportation. Thankfully, special people in my life created opportunities for me to reroute my future.

As a patent attorney, inventor and business owner, I am constantly reminded that I have beaten the odds. Systemic inequality rears its ugly head in all aspects of the innovation ecosystem and most people who look like me never have a chance to obtain legal rights to their own creations or enter the profession. Therefore, I have made it my mission to break down the barriers that plague marginalised communities. Over the course of my career, I have learned that meaningful change takes a village.

Our team: a good hard look in the mirror

I have found my village on Meta’s Patents, Licensing & Open-Source team, where diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a regular part of our day jobs. Our work impacts the way we build our team, how we engage the innovator community and how we create meaningful and lasting change in our profession. But our team was not always this way.

Jeremiah Chan, who has led Meta’s patent function since 2018, has openly shared how he had to confront his own hypocrisy before he could understand how to build a diverse team: “I was regularly speaking at conferences about the need for greater diversity, but I had no track record of hiring people from marginalised communities. I was the living embodiment of ‘performative allyship’ – saying all the right things, but not taking action when I had the chance.”

Meta also has actionable company goals to build a more diverse workforce with greater representation of people of colour in leadership. We would not be where we are today without leaders like Jeremiah, Allen Lo (Deputy General Counsel) and Jennifer Newstead (Chief Legal Officer).

Our team is now 67% Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, and 48% female.  Our most senior leaders are half female and all people of colour. We inspire one another to use our power and privilege to address systemic inequality on our team, the patent profession and the innovator community.

The profession: fixing a broken system

While our team has made significant progress in building up diversity over the last four years, we have continued to see under-representation of women and people of colour in the profession. My colleagues and I have launched several initiatives that provide opportunities for under-represented people to access the patent profession.

Meta’s 1L Legal Diversity Summer Associate Programme, launched by Shayne O’Reilly in 2019, offers 30 students – largely made up of people from under-represented groups – the opportunity to work for eight weeks at one of Meta’s partner law firms. They then spend two weeks at Meta where they shadow in-house attorneys, receive mentoring and attend seminars on professional development. Shayne also partnered with Goodwin Procter to create a Scholarship for undergraduate students at HBCUs with an interest in patent law.

Furthermore, Meta has created avenues for women and under-represented minorities to enter the patent profession. In 2021, the company partnered with the National Council on Patent Practicum (founded by Braxton Davis) to create the Patent Pipeline Programme, which provides free prosecution training to women and people from under-represented minorities with technical degrees, and then connects them with law firms looking to hire diverse technical specialists. Earlier this year, three of our pipeline scholars commenced full-time employment at our partner law firms.

A second cohort of eight pipeline scholars will begin a rebranded Intellectual Property Pipeline Programme, which now includes training in trademark practice, on 1 September.

Another source of marginalised people is legal professionals who have taken a pause from work (eg, to care for family members) and then faced difficulty re-entering the profession. Christine Foo co-leads the The Reconnect Programme, which provides an on-ramp back to paid work in a supportive 12-month programme. These engagements have resulted in full-time employment opportunities across Meta Legal, including three full-time employees on our team.

All these initiatives are important to the growth of the profession, but Meta can only do so much. I knew that we needed to build solidarity across the industry and that’s why we partnered with the LOT Network, Amazon, Cruise, Disney, Google and Microsoft to form a new diversity initiative.

Advancing Diversity Across Patent Teams (ADAPT) addresses systemic inequality in the patent industry and seeks to scale company DEI programmes to impact the entire industry and make programmes more accessible to everyone.

The inventor community: learning the language of inclusion

Many of our team members started to focus on DEI when the USPTO reported the under-representation of female inventors in its 2019 report ‘Progress and Potential’. After testifying at a public hearing on the SUCCESS Act, Charu Kurani began collaborating with other companies to address the lack of inventor diversity.

In July 2021, we partnered with several organisations to hold a virtual conference focused on under-represented inventors and contemporaneously launched the Pledge to Increase Diversity in Innovation, which boasts signatories from over 70 companies. The pledge provides a framework to develop best practices around collecting, tracking, reporting, and increasing inventor diversity, and it requires signatories to take specific actions to better engage their under-represented inventors.

Our team’s efforts to engage Meta’s under-represented inventors has led to a complete overhaul of our patent programmes and processes. With Jyoti Uppuluri’s leadership, we have engaged with behavioural scientists who specialise in inclusive innovation. The data shows us that the current patent system does not work for everyone and we know that Meta’s patent programmes also do not work for many women and inventors of colour.

Without inclusive innovation, we leave people behind and we miss out on their valuable ideas that enable the best products and services for our global community.

Addressing the innovation divide together

It can feel overwhelming to consider the bias and discrimination that marginalised communities face; and the weight of addressing these issues can feel even heavier when we try to tackle these issues alone.

I believe that together we can address the innovation divide if we:

  • recognise that we should not treat DEI as a separate initiative from our jobs – we fail to do our jobs if we do not learn how to inclusively engage others;
  • continuously evaluate and measure whether our DEI efforts are addressing the problem and serving marginalised people; and most importantly,
  • build a community of committed allies.

True change will happen when we create a village of individuals and organisations that strive to create equity and inclusion for everyone.

Inclusivity Insights is a monthly feature in which companies share stories, learnings, and experiences of their D&I journey related to IP and innovation with the IAM audience. Previous articles in the series:

How the Pure patent programme is engineered for inclusive innovation

Diversity pledge companies now number more than 50

Closing diversity gaps in patenting: current initiatives and the HP perspective

How Seagate is working to advance diversity and inclusion in patenting

Betting on diversity in innovation

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