As a young lawyer prepares for his or her first case, there is a lot to consider. One might focus a great deal on an opening statement to a jury, for example, only to have it fall flat because the individuals in the jury box have a completely different point of view and misunderstood the content of the argument. That experience, and the lesson that comes with it is just one small example of how having attorneys with diverse backgrounds helps a case.

“Moving beyond diversity, inclusion is about more than social justice. It’s a business imperative. The more ideas in the room, the more different perspectives, the better,” says David Highet, vice president and chief IP counsel at BD. For the past 11 years, Highet has been involved with an organization that promotes diversity and inclusion in the IP law space.

The American Intellectual Property Law Education Foundation (AIPLEF) was founded a dozen years ago with the goal of increasing the diversity of the IP bar. It does so by providing scholarships and mentoring opportunities to underrepresented minority law school students who wish to pursue careers in IP law. 

According to Highet, the AIPLEF “recognized it was a tough task to become an IP partner. There was the financial challenge,” but also questions that students in science and engineering programs must ask themselves, like “Why law school next?” and “How will I manage it?” This, he says, was the genesis for the financial help the foundation provides. 

Every year the foundation gives out scholarships of $10,000, and in 2013, it awarded these scholarships to 17 worthy recipients. But, says Highet, “One of our biggest challenges is that every year, there are more and more qualified applicants. We wish we could do more.”

One initiative that goes beyond scholarships is the introduction of a mentoring program. Previously, all mentoring had been ad hoc, according to Highet, but in 2013, the foundation partnered with Fitzpatrick Cella to work on an internal mentoring program. Now, the AIPLEF pairs up scholarship recipients with mentors willing to share their wisdom and insights and, says Highet, enthusiasm for the program is high.

The mentoring program is just one of the initiatives the AIPLEF has undertaken in the past year. The group has revamped its website, focusing on mobile functionality, and has created a video to “help tell the story of the impact the AIPLEF makes on the future of the profession,” explains Highet. It lets the people who donated money know that the funds went to a good cause.


Check out the video, and stay tuned for more coverage on the AIPLEF, including interviews with previous scholarship recipients. In the meantime, check out the following IP stories:

Alice was asked aplenty

Patent owners beware, your patent has a 15 percent chance (or less) of surviving the PTAB

Patent litigation shows sharp decline this year

The IP counsel’s role in integrating IP in the business plan