We asked Kerry Flynn, vice president and chief IP counsel at Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated and the winner of the Intellectual Property Individual of the Year award at the 2018 Global Counsel Awards, her opinion on what it takes to be a successful in-house counsel, the best way to advise senior leadership and what winning the award meant to her.
Describe your current role (responsibilities, size of team, structure).
I am currently vice president and chief IP counsel at Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated. I am responsible for the strategic management of the global IP portfolio and lead a team of 12 employees consisting of lawyers, paralegals and administrative professionals.
What led you to a career in-house?
I have practised patent law in-house for over 20 years. Prior to that I worked for a law firm. When I left private practice, I was interested in more closely aligning the business objectives of my clients with global patent strategy.
In your current role, what is the most challenging situation that you have faced? What are the most significant challenges that in-house lawyers are likely to face over the next few years?
As in-house counsel, we are always challenged to do more with increasing budget constraints. I believe this will continue to be a challenge for in-house counsel over the coming years.
Are there particular types of legal issues that you routinely refer to outside counsel? And what kind of matters do you tend to handle in-house?
At Vertex, our in-house attorneys are highly skilled in all aspects of IP law. Therefore, many of our matters are handled internally. However, we typically rely on outside counsel for certain foreign matters and complex patent litigations.
What do you consider to be the essential qualities for a successful in-house lawyer?
It is important for successful in-house lawyers to develop a deep understanding of the industry, the business and its drivers. Success also requires exceptional communication and problem-solving skills.
What’s important for in-house counsel to consider when advising senior leadership?
In-house counsel should consider providing proactive legal advice in non-technical, business-oriented terms, and avoid the use of highly technical IP jargon. It’s great that patent attorneys can be “their own lexicographers”; however, we must keep in mind that business people often do not speak the same highly technical language as we do.
How does the legal department contribute to your company’s growth?
The IP department protects and defends the company’s IP assets worldwide so that we can bring vital medicines to patients with unmet medical needs.
With regard to your industry, are there any significant developments worth highlighting?
I believe the pharmaceutical industry is facing many challenges, including ever-changing national and international legislation. In our industry we are now considering the impact of the unitary patent system and Brexit in Europe, and inter partes review proceedings in the United States.
If not a lawyer, what would you be?
Prior to becoming a lawyer I was a high school maths and science teacher. I am also an adjunct professor at the Boston University School of Law. So if I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be teaching!
What did winning a Global Counsel Award mean to you?
I was honoured and grateful to receive the 2018 Global IP Counsel Award. This award reflects the amazing colleagues and mentors I have had throughout my career. It is also an honour to be placed in the distinguished ranks of my fellow nominees for this award. The award is truly a highlight of my career!
The purpose of the Global Counsel Awards is to identify those in-house counsel, both teams and individuals that excel in their specific roles. The primary aim is to reward lawyers for demonstrable achievements across the full spectrum of in-house responsibility, not simply those who have acted on high-profile transactions.