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Sandra Nowak
Sandra Nowak

In-House Counsel 2020: Sandra Nowak

Medicine or law? Before committing to a career, Sandra Nowak interned at emergency rooms and law firms. She found her path at the intersection of both: intellectual property law.

Today, after 15 years at 3M, she’s chief IP counsel for its Consumer Business Group, which produces familiar 3M products like Scotch-Brite sponges and Post-it notes. Nowak leads the attorneys who handle its patent filings, litigation, licensing, copyrights, and other IP work.

Nowak has helped streamline the group’s patent protection processes. “Often consumer businesses want to invent or mock up multiple possibilities and do consumer testing before they commit to one or more,” she said. “We’ve come up with ways to do patent filings for all the options so they’re protected while 3M does that consumer testing.”

Nowak also helped come up with a patent strategy for a deep learning software development team. Software development can be quite rapid, but software patentability varies widely around the world. “We’ve partnered with outside experts to get patents filed quickly and protect technology in as many countries as possible,” she said.

Nowak advocates for greater diversity in innovation through organizations like the Intellectual Property Owners Association because she believes it leads to better innovation. She testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s IP Subcommittee last year, noting that a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office report had shown that if people of other races, genders, and income levels innovated at similar rates as affluent white men, the impact would be profound. “The GDP of the country would quadruple,” she said.

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