Representation in IP

Nokia sharpens patent firms’ focus on diversity

Several patent firms are among those taking part in a new equality and diversity initiative launched by Nokia. The Finnish telecommunication company has introduced an Equity, Inclusion and Diversity (EID) Scorecard, which aims to track the progress of law firms in their efforts towards greater diversity and inclusion. For the European patent market, it could be an important step towards fuller representation.

12 May 2021 by Amy Sandys

Nokia's new equity, inclusion and diversity (E, I&D) scorecard aims to ensure its main law firm panel, including some IP firms, share its core value ©Sundry Photography /ADOBE SOTCK

Finnish telecommunications giant Nokia has launched its Equity, Inclusion and Diversity (E,I&D) Scorecard. The company will evaluate, via quarterly and annual quantitative and qualitative assessments, whether its panel firms are taking steps to implement an effective E,I&D programme.

Assessments will score law firms based on factors such as recruitment policies, pay equality, and availability of mentoring and pro bono initiatives. It also examines the percentage of billable work carried out by employees from different backgrounds, engagement with D&I organisations, and the presence of a dedicated E, I&D team.

For Nassib Abou-Khalil, chief legal officer at Nokia, the company’s visible commitment to hiring diverse teams is a fundamental aspect of Nokia’s future company direction.

Nokia, scorecard, Nassib Abou-Khalil

Nassib Abou-Khalil

In conservation with JUVE Patent, Abou-Khalil says, “Promoting inclusion and diversity is high on Nokia’s agenda, and we are collaborating with our suppliers and other stakeholders to make I&D a major differentiator to Nokia.”

“Practical examples include, for instance, trainings to suppliers and asking them to share their inclusion & diversity plans with us.”

The initiative is not unique to patent law firms, with Eversheds Sutherland, Roschier, Bird & Bird, Quinn Emanuel, McKool Smith, and Alston & Bird in the first participating group.

However, Nokia’s visibility in rolling out its programme should provide a benchmark for IP and patent firms going forward.

Steps in the right direction

Observers often criticise the European patent market for its lack of women and/or those identifying as Black, Asian or minority-ethnic in senior positions. The issue has recently come to light, for example, in the UK’s hire of two judges for its IP bench. Furthermore, recent studies have also discussed how to address the issue of ‘hidden disabilities’ and other, less obvious indicators of diversity such as sexuality and gender.

Thus, for larger, multi-jurisdictional patent law firms, the onus is on their ability to respond to market pressures. At historic law firms such as Bird & Bird and Eversheds Sutherland, as market demographics changed during the latter half of the 20th century, the companies began integrating equity, inclusion and diversity into their corporate strategies.

Diversity, pitch-side

Nowadays, however, equity and inclusion often form part of hiring formulas and pitching structures. As such, patent firms tend to take such requirements more seriously. The kind of directive, such as Nokia’s EI&D scorecard, are becoming more widespread in IP and patent law.

If a potential client extends its own diversity requirements to the law firm, there is a greater chance of in-house and law firms sharing core values of equity and representation. Thus, it is likely that other in-house teams will follow suit in their law firm selection process.

Nassib Abou-Khalil says, “Overall, we are very pleased to see more focus being put on equity, diversity and inclusion topics in the legal industry, with more and more companies launching initiatives to promote diversity not only internally but through the companies they partner with.”

He continues, “Many companies, though, have opted for a carrot or stick approach. However, we have taken a unique approach to prioritise dialogue, collaboration and by helping partners drive change to create a more inclusive diverse and equitable legal profession.”

Boutiques offer fresh perspective

Some lawyers suggest that there is less opportunity for boutique law firms to fill diversity quotes. This is especially the case if the firm is based away from global cities such as London, which are known for having diverse populations. In other, less diverse cities, boutique firms can have greater trouble attracting and displaying a broader demographic of employees.

On the other hand, some boutiques are, alongside historic law firms, comparatively young. For example, Nokia also works with Arnold Ruess in Germany. Founded just ten years ago, its partnership is younger than some more longer-established firms. Such boutiques, created in a more modern era, have the ability to implement diverse practices from the outset. This is something that Nokia’s new initiative reflects.

Abou-Khalil says, “We chose the six panel law firms to pilot the scorecard with, and are planning to extend the scorecard to all law firms we use in the future.”

Women in front

One leading patent partner notes that the IP sector in general provides a good mixture of, for example, female partners across the board. However, in patent specifically, firms could do more to encourage applications from, and retention of, female patent attorneys and patent litigators at partner level.

Clemens-August Heusch, automatic injunction

Clemens-August Heusch

Clemens-August Heusch, VP head of global litigation and disputes at Nokia, says, “As a sector of IP and patent law, life sciences and pharmaceuticals tend to attract more women. But engineering and mechanics are always one step behind.”

He says, “At Nokia, we are encouraging more women to take up STEM subjects at a high school and university level. There is absolutely no reason why it should always be men in this sector.”

Nokia’s drive for inclusion

Abou-Khalil says, “What makes Nokia’s approach unique is that it focuses on collaboration, partnership, support, and encouragement to create a network where Nokia’s Legal & Compliance organisation and the key law firms it uses hold each other accountable to progress equity, inclusion, and diversity representation.”

Abou-Khalil says, “Once we roll out the scorecard to all firms, they will not be alone in this improving their E, I&D practices, but will have the support of Nokia and a network of other companies to learn from. Our goal is not to put anyone at a disadvantage. Rather, to work collaboratively with all our law firms towards making a positive impact improving Equity, Inclusion and Diversity in the legal profession.”

And this initiative is not the first time that Nokia has extended a commitment to fostering greater diversity. In 2020, it launched a partnership with Diversity Lab, “an incubator for innovative ideas and solutions that boost inclusion and diversity in law… in collaboration with top law firms and legal departments.”

One example of its work is its “Mansfield Rule for Legal Departments 2nd Edition,” a movement to broaden the pool of eligible candidates in legal leadership positions.