Interview by Marija Butkovic (@MarijaButkovic)
Rosie Burbidge is an intellectual property lawyer at Fox Williams LLP. She spends most of her time resolving disputes. She cut her litigation teeth on patent cases and has now graduated to design, trademark and copyright issues with a sprinkling of breach of confidence. She has worked for a wide range of technology and fashion businesses including those connected to gaming, virtual reality, Internet of Things, social media and the blockchain.
What does your current job role entail?
I am an intellectual property lawyer. I specialise in helping resolve disputes about IP ownership or misuse of IP rights. Most of my clients are in technology or fashion as innovation is particularly important to both sectors. A typical day could involve anything from misuse of computer software, checking whether a computer game infringes IP rights before it is launched to investigating the supply chains for counterfeit goods and obtaining injunctions or search orders.
How has your career progressed since your degree? How come you developed particular interest for tech and emerging technologies during your legal professional journey?
I studied English literature at university and then took a one year conversion course to law. I have always been interested in technology (I even had a starter electronics kit as a kid). Although I did well in science at school, it didn’t instil in me the same passion as Shakespeare or Austen (hence the literature degree). That all changed when I started working in law. I quickly found that understanding the technology underlying patent disputes or licensing deals was by far and away the most interesting part of the job. I got my subscription to Wired and have kept on top of technology trends ever since.
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to work on a patent case involving virtual reality technology. The dispute was centred on 1990s technology but it got me really interested in VR and I have been following it ever since. Whilst there is a lot being written about the possible applications, I hadn’t seen much thought given to the legal issues, particularly around IP. To help change that, I recently made a video with Wolters Kluwer (a forward thinking publishing company) looking at VR from a legal perspective: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ALs-p4n7o4&t=8s.
I also really enjoy blogging. I have blogged about everything from art to social media, trade marks to China and IP. I’m currently in the process of collecting everything I have written into one place: https://www.rosieburbidge.com/
What was the biggest obstacle for you as a young woman in a very traditional business and corporate background?
I don’t think there is a great deal of difference between the treatment of men and women early in your career but something seems to shift in everyone’s late 20s and early 30s and suddenly the equality that was taken for granted is revealed to be a little less than that. I have found the difference which emerges very hard to pinpoint. It is subtle and gradual. A lot of talented women I know have elected to do other things rather than wait the extra year or two for a promotion compared to their male colleagues. This is obviously exacerbated by childcare (which remains incredibly unequal) long after the birth. Because it is so subtle, it is hard to know what can be done to change things.
What does the #WomenInTech and #WomenInBusiness movement mean to you? What are the challenges of being a woman in legal industry focusing on emerging technologies? Is it hard to blend those two fields?
When I first went to “women in law” events a few years ago, I found very little that appealed to me. It mostly seemed to be a group of women complaining about childcare arrangements and juggling the Ocado delivery with personal training schedules. I stopped going. Then the women in tech movement took off and it had a much better, much stronger focus. I really enjoy the female focused events, everyone seems to be more supportive, more open, more collaborative and a lot younger. That’s not to do general tech events a disservice, I have been to some really excellent and well organised events but I have never been met with such open arms at the more mainstream tech events.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
I travelled a lot when I was younger. This is not that unusual but I’m very grateful I had that opportunity. Surviving some experiences felt like a big achievement at the time. Whether it was working in the Trinidad prisons for three months supporting death row inmates on getting access to basic legal aid and medical care, hitch hiking in Guatemala or driving in Sri Lanka, I have had some memorable experiences.
From a work perspective, I have helped clients get patent protection for their products and created huge amounts of additional value for businesses as a result. I will never forget finalising a multinational patent dispute from my bed at 4am in the morning mere hours before court was due to start.
I’ve been fortunate to work for both eBay and PayPal and more recently for Richemont, the owner of various luxury goods brands. Seeing behind the scenes in both businesses was a real privilege and made me much more appreciative of the issues which face a business on a daily basis (and can easily be overlooked when working for a law firm).
What are some of the most interesting projects you are currently working on?
My work on VR and AR is my main interest at the moment, I have started a website - https://www.virtualreality.lawyer/ to start looking at the legal issues facing VR and AR and keep track of the latest business issues and trends facing the industry.
I also am working on a book about Fashion Law which should be published next year. I am going to focus on the overlap between fashion and technology and the issues such as e-commerce which are universal for almost all industries now. Fashion is obviously very important to the success of wearables so I hope you will not be put off by the title when it (eventually!) hits the digital shelves :)
In your opinion, what will be the key trends in the wearable tech, IoT and VR/AR industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
All these industries are currently too fragmented for many consumers to make the leap to purchasing a device which may or may not become the industry standard. I think we will slowly see a narrowing of options over the next five years and an acceptance of what are the high, mid range and low range options with accessories dedicated to each space.
Mobile is going to be essential for VR adoption in the short term but whether it truly goes mainstream will depend on the content. I can see high end content starting in a more cinematic type experience and moving mainstream as people have the at home processing capability to run VR (currently the main barrier to entry is not the headset but the laptop which is powerful enough for the headset).
Can you name any prominent women in this industry that you admire?
I’ve been very impressed by Vinaya and by Kate Unsworth. Her vision for managing digital lives through attractive devices makes a lot of sense and has been very well received by the fashion industry - a crucial group for wearables to engage with to get mainstream success.
It goes without saying that the two of you are both inspirational. Creating networks like WoW takes a huge amount of time and dedication all on top of your own businesses. Thank you so much for making it happen. From where I am sitting, it is definitely worth it!
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there, but also those who wish to continue their journeys in legal direction?
You will have to work harder. Whether that is to get money, to get good quality employees, to be seen as credible by your peers. That is not fair. However, it does ultimately give you a huge advantage - as a result of that hard work you will emerge a stronger, more able person, with a larger network, bigger social media presence and the resilience to withstand any storm.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in tech space?
Although it is a cliche, I think number 1 has to be Sheryl Sandberg. Regardless of your personal view on the Lean In philosophy, she has raised the profile of women in technology and started a conversation which previously hadn’t been given much attention. I’m also a big fan of Eileen Burbidge (not just because we share the same surname!). She has been a fantastic ambassador for FinTech and been instrumental in putting London on the map for FinTech. Finally, I recently had the pleasure of meeting Heidi Harman, the founder of Geek Girl. For the time being, at least, it is essential that we have inspirational people like her (and you!!) developing and maintaining communities of women. Through these communities, women are able to share experiences and are given a collective voice.
Most of the blogs she has written are available on her website here.