President Bob Armitage joined the Foundation, as a Trustee designated by the Section on Intellectual Property Law of the American Bar Association, in 2016. Before becoming Foundation President in October 2021, he served as the Foundation’s Secretary and chair of its Public Awareness Committee.
DEI: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
My first twenty years in the IP profession were a remarkable journey for me. I had many career-shaping opportunities. One of them was the privilege to work just a few feet from the office of Sidney B. Williams, Jr.
Sid and I discussed, and often debated, a remarkable spectrum of topics. Biotechnology patent law was emerging—and it would come to spark massive investments to commercialize this promising collection of new technologies. The Hatch-Waxman Act became law—with its now-profound implications for the biopharma industry. The Patent Cooperation Treaty was changing the way in which patents were secured across the globe. And computers and computer networks were replacing pencil and paper as the medium for conducting patent work.
There was another topic that was at the heart of many discussions with Sid. In today’s parlance, these would be tagged diversity, equity, and inclusion discussions. One common theme: what would it take for our profession to be more open and more welcoming to patent lawyers of more than one race, ethnicity, and gender. Looking back nearly a half century, the need for such discussions was visibly and viscerally self-evident. The patent law profession back then was almost exclusively white and male.
At his core, however, Sid was not about just talk. He knew what it meant to lead. He was aware that every successful leader requires a game plan. He knew even a great game plan was no better than the efforts that go into the plan’s execution. Sid’s penchant to plan and to act—is just what you would expect from a highly successful quarterback who started for one of the great Division I football programs in the country (uwbadgers.com/honors/university-of-wisconsin-athletic-hall-of-fame/sidney-williams-jr-/244).
As a leader in the national IP bar, at a time when the leadership would otherwise have been almost exclusively white and male, Sid was among a small group who worked to assure the IP bar not only made a firm and enduring DEI commitment, but a commitment that would be institutionalized. Today’s Foundation for Advancement of Diversity in IP Law is has become the most tangible evidence of what Sid’s longstanding DEI commitment has produced.
Today, of course, the Foundation has a two-decade record of success at promoting racial and ethnic diversity in the IP law profession. Among the leaders in the IP bar whom the Foundation is proud to have recognized as Sidney B. Williams, Jr. Scholars are Trustees of the Foundation. Indeed, today, there are more law students exploring a career in patent law as Foundation Scholars than at any time in the history of the Foundation.
What will tomorrow bring? Knowing the Foundation’s Board of Trustees as I do, tomorrow will not bring just more of the same. To our DEI partners, I can assure you that tomorrow for the Foundation will mean more of more.
Yes, our existing Sidney B. Williams, Jr. Scholar Program will continue to grow. A program that just a few years ago recognized 15 law students as Scholars at any one time is now planned to include as many a 75 law students—more than two dozen at each of the 1L through 3L law school classes.
More importantly, the Foundation cannot and will not forever focus on just one program. Since there is much more DEI work that needs to be done, I hope and expect to see our Foundation doing much more. I look forward to working with the Board of Trustees and our array of partnering organizations to doing the more—a more that so much needs doing.