Brooks, Cameron & Huebsch, PLLC: Promoting Greater Diversity in STEM Education and IP Practice

Brooks, Cameron & Huebsch, PLLC
2024 Feature Nominations

The ability to imagine new solutions to complex problems is a hallmark of every innovator. It is also a defining trait of the attorneys at Brooks, Cameron & Huebsch, PLLC (BCH). With a singular focus on patent prosecution, they bring novel thinking to helping inventors across disciplines with matters spanning patent preparation and prosecution, litigation support, patent license drafting and negotiation, confidentiality, non-disclosure, intellectual property-related employment agreement consulting, and post-grant review strategies.

At a firm where originality and resourcefulness are prized, it follows that it is also a place where diverse people and their varying points of view are highly valued. This conviction is reflected in a firm culture where diversity, equity and inclusion are not simply paid lip service, but are considered vital to the delivery of fresh legal solutions and exceptional client service.

With the well-known Paul Wellstone credo, “We all do better when we all do better,” BCH promotes an environment of support and mentorship, where individual talents and dreams are fostered, and the path forward is as versatile as its attorneys. A conversation with seven women at BCH, six attorneys and one administrator, leaves no doubt that it is a place where women are succeeding in careers they love.

In order to practice patent law, attorneys must pass the Patent Bar (officially the United States Patent and Trademark Office Registration Examination) in addition to the state bar. Sitting for the Patent Bar requires a science degree. This considerably narrows the recruiting field for diverse practitioners, since few law students possess science degrees in the first place. Add that only a small percentage of those who do are from minority groups historically under-represented in STEM education and professions, and you have a diversity crisis. As a result, BCH engages in proactive, national recruiting efforts to find diverse candidates and create enduring career opportunities in Minnesota and beyond.

Shireen K. Bhatia is a biologist and patent attorney. She was working for a litigation firm in Austin, Texas when she responded to a hiring post at BCH in July of this year. “It’s not lost on any of us, the disparity in educating and hiring women and folks beyond the binary in STEM. I grew up in Cleveland and went to law school in New Hampshire. It’s not the most diverse place, but it is one of those schools where people go to focus on IP. Most of the people in my classes were men, particularly white men, and the firm where I worked in Texas was all collegial white men. What drew me to BCH is the active effort here to practice in inclusivity. This firm understands that if you want to close the disparity in STEM and in the law, you have to reach beyond Minnesota to look for talent and invest in people. I feel I’m getting mentorship from all angles.”

According to Amanda Brooks, a key member of the firm’s professional team who supports the finance group while coordinating events, operations and marketing, “We’re not looking to pull people in the door and relegate them to the back office. From the get go, our attorneys are part of our team, meeting clients and doing real work that allows them to build confidence and exposure, and go out to build their own networks.”

Diana N. Obodoako joined BCH in 2017 after obtaining her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from North Carolina Central University (NCCU). Obodoako completed her law degree at NCCU School of Law in 2015 and made the extraordinary choice to return to school for a science degree in order to practice patent law. She credits her former law school buddy and now colleague, Dayo Aladeniyi, with giving her the confidence to make such a monumental commitment.

Diana N. Obodoako and Dayo O. Aladeniyi
Diana N. Obodoako and Dayo O. Aladeniyi

“She was my inspiration. I saw her in practice, I saw her doing it first,” Obodoako says. “It helped me to know if she could do it, I could do it. When I started here, everyone was welcoming, helpful and made me feel at home, even though I was far from home and anyone I knew — especially Katie, who mentored me. It wasn’t as scary as it could have been.”

In an ongoing effort to lead by example and promote women into positions of leadership, BCH installed Mary Katherine Thueringer (known to many as “Katie”) as co-managing partner alongside Jacob T. Kern in October 2022. Under the guidance of Thueringer, BCH recruits, hires and mentors individuals who are typically overlooked in the field of patent law. BCH also takes part in educating and presenting its diversity success and recruitment initiatives to corporate clients. Thueringer was recently honored as a 2022 Twin Cities Business Notable DEI Executive.

As a firm leader and diversity advocate, Thueringer has been instrumental in helping to bring diverse lawyers into the firm. “When I started, there was one other female who eventually moved in-house. For a long time after, I was the only female. I always felt welcomed by my colleagues and the mentoring was awesome. But I do like that when we hire new female attorneys, I can talk to them about my experience and tell them not to be afraid to ask questions. It’s nice being surrounded by all these wonderful women. I have two little girls, and I make sure they know they can be whatever they want and can study whatever they want. Boys are not smarter, just because they have louder voices.”

Diverse legal representation is a growing priority for many of the clients BCH represents. “Many of our clients have also embraced DEI, and they want to make sure that we’re not just hiring to hit the numbers, but that underrepresented groups are properly compensated and promoted to leadership positions,” Thueringer continues. “They want to see that we are actually committed to developing a diverse workforce and attorney base. They use that information when deciding which firms they want to use as their outside counsel.”

The firm is not only spearheading opportunities for women and other diverse individuals in the law, but for women inventors. Angela C. Pechacek is a firm partner with a background in mechanical engineering. “What we’re finding with clients is that we’re able to get more women on patents because they feel comfortable talking to other women. I was an engineer at several different companies before becoming a lawyer. I always wanted to know more about the patent process, but it was an ‘old boys’ club. All the same people were getting patents, and it was intimidating to apply and figure out how to submit disclosures to counsel. A lot of our clients have relied on us to reach out to women inventors to make them feel comfortable and confident.”

Pechacek mentions another notable result. “We’ve been working on cases where the products are for women. More women engineers are solving women’s problems. It’s great to be helping women get patents while promoting products for women. The most fun I’ve had as a patent lawyer is working with these women.”

The firm’s flexible nature allows people to live and practice from virtually anywhere in the country. “They don’t need to move to Minnesota,” Thueringer says. “Diana and Dayo both moved to Houston. We also have a partner in Utah. Now we’re thinking about setting up a small office in North Carolina because one of our attorneys is moving there. Our goal is to support people wherever they are.”

Becky Taylor-Brooks is a patent attorney and electrical engineer with more than 20 years of hands-on experience in her scientific field. She lives outside Boise, Idaho, and she has been a remote attorney for the entirety of her year-long tenure with the firm.

“One thing I can say is that meeting remotely hasn’t hampered me at all when it comes to training and support,” Taylor-Brooks says. “If I have questions, everyone is responsive, and we can always get on a Zoom call. This is a profession where you can do that. The team has gone above and beyond making me feel I’m up to speed and not forgotten. They have offered to fly me out to meet everybody, and I hope to do that soon.”

Regarding her experience in Houston, Obodoako comments, “I was in the office in Minnesota, but after the pandemic, I moved to Houston and began working from home. I miss the in-person interaction, but it has been a smooth transition. I’m working 100% remote, and everyone back at the firm is very helpful. We video chat often so we can see each other.”

Dayo O. Aladeniyi is a patent attorney and physicist with four years of experience in the technology transfer sector. She is working remotely from Houston and is also a new mother. “The firm has been very understanding and willing to help me through this transition while acknowledging my limitations. I’m very grateful. Katie and Diana have both been through this and can tell me what the policies are.”

“I’m proud to know I’m part of a minority group representing people who are not typically represented in law,” Aladeniyi continues. “There is some empowerment in the idea that I’m just as brainy, and I can do it. When I first started, I felt very incompetent. But now, to understand the same things as my colleagues and know that I am just as capable of handling these challenges is empowering. A patent law professor pushed me in this direction and told me that I would be blazing a path for people who would want to come after me. I think we are all doing that here at BCH.”

H.K. Wilson

H.K. Wilson is a contributing writer for Attorney at Law Magazine. She has been writing features for the publication for more than four years.

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