Interview by Marija Butkovic (@MarijaButkovic)
Rosie Burbidge is an intellectual property lawyer and partner at Gunnercooke LLP. She helps her clients to solve their intellectual property problems whether it is securing the perfect trade mark or resolving a dispute, Rosie can guide her client’s through the process in an accessible and simply way. Rosie has worked for a wide range of technology and fashion clients from Nintendo to Superdry. Thanks to a hard fought patent dispute she has detailed knowledge of the gaming business, particularly virtual reality.
Rosie has been a longstanding supporter of the WoW community and has an excellent practical understanding of the issues that face businesses (large and small) and the ways in which IP can be used to either complement and support business strategy or totally undermine it. She has written a book on European Fashion Law (Edward Elgar Publishing). She regularly writes for popular IP blogs and professional publications. Rosie’s articles consider topical and tech focused issues such as the use of blockchain for the fashion industry, virtual reality and social media.
Rosie, how did you get into fashion tech? Tell us a bit more about your projects so far and what has changed since the last time we spoke.
Intellectual property rights are essential to both the fashion and technology sectors so there are lots of meaty IP issues which arise. I particularly enjoy the crossover because it means I get to combine my detailed technical legal knowledge with the commercial experience that comes from many years working with businesses. In the past I’ve helped clients who are using sensor technology in clothing, using beacon technology in stores and improving the manufacturing and supply process via various methods including blockchain technology.
Since we last spoke I joined Gunnercooke - a visionary modern law firm which gives me more control over everything from where I work to how I work with clients. I’ve also written a book: European Fashion Law: A Practical Guide from Start-up to Global Success!
What is the idea behind The European Fashion Law Book and how did you come up with it?
The aim of the book was to provide a simple and user friendly guide to the issues that fashion businesses (indeed all businesses) face as they grow and their business expands in Europe. The book takes a notional fashion business on a journey from starting up when they need to think about IP rights, funding and basic contracts through to global domination where franchising, legal disputes and mergers or acquisitions tend to become more relevant.
The text is clear and logical - one reviewer called it a “joy to read”! There are icons throughout the text to guide readers to points which are particularly important, useful or may become obsolete in the near future. By the standards of legal texts this is pretty out there!
I was super lucky to get some great contributions from experts in other legal systems, particularly French and Italian law and in areas outside my practice such as franchising, agency and distribution agreements, funding and corporate law.
You started your own business recently. How did you get to be where you are now? What was the biggest obstacle?
People don’t often think of lawyers as running a business but of course this is what being a partner entails. My firm, Gunnercooke, has been at the cutting edge of developing new models for lawyers doing business. They offer tremendous flexibility and use technology to achieve what in the past required large teams of people printing, copying, scanning and organising vast reams of documents.
The biggest obstacle is making the jump from salaried working to reliance on a variable income stream. It is slightly terrifying to begin with but it means I can relate to my clients on a much more meaningful way and I’m aware of the changes which are coming down the track for small businesses such as the move to digital VAT in April 2019. This is not the sort of thing that would have typically been on my IP focused radar in the past.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
Getting used to a new pattern of working always takes time. This isn’t just a question of where to work but also how to work. My laptop is now my trusty sidekick and paper is semi outlawed from my life (I make an exception for the occasional notebook). Thanks to the Marie Kondo revolution I have dramatically reduced the amount of paper (and stuff generally) that I store and become both more efficient and more in control.
The great thing about Gunnercooke is that it was co-founded by a woman and 50% of the partners are female. It is by far and away the most equal environment I have ever worked in. For the first time since I was a junior lawyer I don’t feel like my gender is limiting my career options. This is hugely liberating.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
My biggest achievement is undoubtedly the book - three years of preparing, writing, organising and editing. Joining Gunnercooke and building up my business and practice there is a much longer term and ongoing goal/achievement.
What are the projects you are currently working on?
I’ve been busy on various other projects to make IP more accessible to the fashion and technology communities. For example, I recently recorded some short videos introducing IP rights for Crafty Counsel. I’m also working on a longer series which considers the major IP issues that affect businesses such as managing a trade mark portfolio and responding to an IP dispute.
I’m also working on a fashion law course for students, professionals and designers which will start with a one day residential on 1 May 2019 followed by a three day residential from 2-4 July 2019. Longer term there will also be an online course (details to be announced).
I’m also thinking of writing another book! This book will take a similar approach but focus on the issues that the technology community needs to think about when doing business in Europe. Once you get bitten by the book bug, it’s hard to stop!
Is the #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
In my view, connecting women in technology is important as part of the wider question of diverse representation in technology. This is so important as it ensures that technology works optimally for everyone and truly caters to the needs and concerns of society as a whole. I think things are broadly heading in a positive direction and this is in no small part thanks to the fantastic members of communities like WoW.
What will be the key trends in the fashion tech and wearable tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading? How about biggest legal challenges for fashion tech businesses?
There are so many uncertainties at the moment with global trade from Trump to Brexit, it’s almost impossible to predict. The trends that I can see happening at the moment are more care put into consumer purchasing and a desire for less items which are sustainable both in terms of the manufacturing and supply process and in the ease with which they can be recycled at the end of their life. The integration of tech doesn’t always align well with sustainability but there is a huge opportunity for new business models to take off such as the rent the runway approach of renting rather than owning clothes.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Some legal issues can be bootstrapped but there are key moments in any start up journey when legal advice can be the difference between long term success and potential failure. (1) at the very beginning when you’re looking at the product name, design, idea etc - get legal advice to get your IP rights protected as far as possible; (2) when you give up equity, this may be to a co-founder, an investor or new employee; (3) when entering into major contracts - this includes employment contracts, distribution and agency agreements or similar. Finally, when a dispute arises identifying and implementing the right strategy is essential.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in fashion tech and / or wearable tech?
Marija Butkovic - you are a legend. It is incredible to see how you have grown the community into the global force it is today. What’s even more impressive is achieving so much of this whilst pregnant and now breastfeeding your bonny baby. So inspirational!
Alex Deschamps-Sonsino has been a key figure on the London tech scene for over a decade. She has brought the internet of things community together in London and is a constant source of wisdom and a very generous and kind human being. Major kudos.
Finally, I’ve become a huge fan of Cindy Gallop - in her own words - she is “the Michael Bay of business” because she “likes to blow shit up”. She doesn’t mince her words and is a great thought leader on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn: Rosie Burbidge
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, co-founder of Women of Wearables and Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.