Interviewed by Maria Luiza MENEZES DE OLIVEIRA
Meet our member, Dr. Andrea Schmoll, a Partner at Osborne Clarke specialising in Intellectual Property Law. In this interview, she talks about the future of legal tech, why patent protection is so important, and the need for diversity within and beyond the legal profession.
You are a Partner at Osborne Clarke focusing on Intellectual Property Law, you have been described as one of Germany’s leading experts in IP related transactions, and in 2018 you won the Client Choice Award for copyright. What led you to specialise in Intellectual Property Law and what has receiving these various awards and recognitions meant to you?
That’s a very good question, actually. The reason I became an IP lawyer is because, when I was a young student and dreaming about becoming a journalist, I met a renowned editor who told me I should study law in order to become a good journalist and learn how to use language most effectively.
That’s why I chose to study law. I began to really enjoy the legal discipline and, when I started to work as a lawyer, I quickly got into intellectual property and life sciences-related issues. After 20 years of practicing law, it still is a fascinating area for me, and I enjoy my day-to-day work. In terms of my awards, of course, they are a great recognition of the quality of work one delivers but, to be honest, they don’t mean that much to me. It’s a "nice to have" but it’s not what drives me.
Intellectual property has become one of the most influential and often most controversial issues in the knowledge-based economy, especially in recent months when debates have raged about IP rights on Covid-19 vaccines and the impact that waiving them could have on curbing the spread of the virus. Where do you sit on the issue of IP and Covid?
Being an IP specialist in the Life Sciences sector, I advise many biotech and pharma companies on the commercialisation of IP Rights, in particular as regards license agreements, research and development agreements and technology transfer agreements. Knowing how much time, efforts and funds my clients are investing in order to develop vaccines and other pharmaceutical products, I am really concerned about the current patent waiver discussion. It is incredibly expensive to develop a pharmaceutical product and is only worth it for pharma companies if they have an adequate return on investment when a development is successful. You only get that when you can exclude your competitors for a small amount of time to enjoy the exclusivity given to you by a patent. I have, in fact, a very strong view on this – and sincerely hope that we will soon have moved on from this debate.
This last decade in legal tech has been transformative, with a rise in the number of legal tech startups and legal technology and software. How has legal tech impacted your work, and what do you see as the future for legal tech?
We at Osborne Clarke are very much focused on digitalisation and were one of the frontrunners in terms of legal tech. We have, for example, an affiliate company that focuses on legal tech solutions. I see the need for legal tech, and many of my clients are using legal tech. We host platforms for our clients to help them navigate their daily challenges, upload work products and information material, keep in touch with them and use legal tech. And this is even combined with AI solutions, for example, for contract templates. So, yes, while legal tech is useful, I do not expect it ever to replace the involvement of a lawyer. Being a lawyer is so much about assessing the particular situation and then giving practical and pragmatic advice. It is also about understanding the position and concerns of the other party and then finding a good compromise. You do not only need extensive business and sector knowledge but also negotiation skills in order to get the best deal for the client.
Legal tech is useful, but it will never
replace a lawyer. Being a lawyer is so
much about assessing the situation and then giving
practical and pragmatic advice. You need extensive business
knowledge in order to find a good solution for the client.
You support clients from the Life Science and Healthcare sector. Here it has been said that there has been a “resetting of parameters”, allowing businesses to develop new technologies quicker than before. How has this resetting of parameters affected your role as an intellectual property lawyer?
As a lawyer, you have to adapt quickly to new developments and new parameters, whether it is new technical inventions or new regulatory landscapes. You have to be at the forefront and always have to know what is going on. It is not just that you qualify as a lawyer and that’s it. You have to constantly learn and adapt. This can be challenging. In terms of developments in the Life Sciences, there is certainly a lot going on, with many investments and transactions taking place. I actually think that, due to the pandemic, the Life Sciences sector is currently the most vibrant part of the economy.
As a lawyer, you have to adapt quickly to new
developments and new parameters, whether it is new
technical inventions or new regulatory landscapes. You have
to be at the forefront and always know what’s going on.
On your LinkedIn profile you state proudly that you are “driven by diversity”. How do you put this into practice in your career? What are the benefits of a diverse workforce, especially in the legal field?
Diversity is something that always drove me and was always important to me. I never understood why women or people of colour or anyone else should be treated differently than others. In my career, I never experienced any disadvantages being a woman. I was promoted to Partner when I had just returned from maternity leave after the birth of my first child. However, I learned early on that it is important to speak out and to put forward one’s requests. If you do not believe in yourself and fight for yourself, no one will. Despite this, I see that there are younger colleagues who need support, so what I really try to do is being a mentor and encourage others. I try to encourage people and help them to shine. Not just women – diversity is not just about gender. I really try to be a role model. In my case, for example, you can be a successful partner in an international law firm and enjoy a happy family life.
Working with a diverse team is more fun and helps the negotiation process. I really think that diverse teams lead to more effective and more successful results. That is why I am very eager to push diversity forward. We at Osborne Clarke show that we are on a good path, but there is still room for improvement.
Diversity is something that always drove me
and was always important to me. I never understood
why women or people of colour or anyone else should
be treated differently than others.
Before embarking on this rich and inspiring career in law, you studied at the University of Hong Kong. What impact did this experience of studying abroad have on you and how did it enhance your future career prospects?
I studied in Hong Kong for eight months when I was 20 years old. I am still a huge fan of Asia and take any opportunity that comes my way to spend time there. That is why, back in 1995, I chose to become a visiting student at Hong Kong University (HKU). It was far away and seemed very exotic. I was one of the very few Westerners at HKU at the time and it was a wonderful experience. In German, we have a saying "über den Tellerrand schauen", which means leaving your small-town life to see what is going on the other side. I could not describe it better.
I did an internship with a Hong Kong lawyer who was an expert in criminal law. One day we visited a client who was imprisoned in the New Territories (China). That was really a wake-up call in terms of my legal education. I also saw how great it is to work internationally, and that is something I always valued upon my return from Hong Kong. For my PhD thesis I chose an international topic that enabled me to spend time in the US, UK and France. I started working in an international law firm. Honestly, I think I could never work in a purely German law firm, that would not make me happy. I need to have an international exchange and to be surrounded by people of all nationalities and genders.
I could never work in a purely German law firm,
that would not make me happy. I need to have
an international exchange; I need to see people of all
nationalities and genders.
Video edited by Nadège Serrero