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Pop culture to pharmaceuticals – a career journey in IP Law

Mali Rickards, Legal Counsel in the Brand Rights team within the Intellectual Property department at Haleon.  Mali explains to Vikki Marson, Legal Counsel (IP/Commercial) at Alexander McQueen her career path and shares her unconventional in-house training contract experience.

When did you first encounter intellectual property?

When I was 10 or 11, Warner Brothers had a year-long IP infringement standoff with my brother because of a Harry Potter fan club domain name he’d bought. The story got picked up by the Times and the BBC and, in hindsight, it was the first example of how IP enforcement can be a double-edged sword and could cause reputational damage to the rights holder in some instances.

Apart from that, I’ve always been interested in news stories involving IP and pop culture such as Blurred Lines and Marvin Gaye. I found these interesting because they involved songs or goods that I found in my day-to-day and were easy to engage with.

My first real encounter with IP was whilst I was studying the LPC (Legal Practice Course) and I completed a syllabus for IP and Commercial Law. There wasn’t an IP specific syllabus available whilst I was at university, so I was eager to learn more, and I found it interesting. 

From leaving University to qualifying as lawyer, what did your journey look like?

After finishing university, I travelled for a bit and then came back to the UK to complete my LPC, which is when I really got interested in IP. Wanting to get some experience of IP in practise, I then started a paralegal position at an IP specialist firm. I worked on design and trade mark matters, but the role was heavily focused on patents. Because I didn’t have the scientific background needed to progress further in patents, I decided to move on and look for an in-house role with an IP focus.

My next move was working in-house at Tangle Teezer, a FMCG haircare company. The founder was very “on it” from the start regarding IP and there was a large portfolio of rights and anti-counterfeiting strategies in place almost from the get-go. I was working closely with external counsel and focusing on IP enforcement, IP strategy for new product development, anti-counterfeiting, and other general commercial legal matters. Asia was an important market in terms of business and counterfeiting and this allowed me to travel internationally and take part in raids of counterfeit manufacturers. The role was a fantastic way to see how IP can be the core of a business. 

In 2021, I started my training contract in 2019 with GSK and qualified into their Legal and Brand Protection (LBP) department.

Can you tell us more about your In-house training contract at GSK?

My training contract at GSK was very flexible and rewarding. I knew from the start that I would be qualifying into the Legal and Brand Protection team, which was my first seat.

I supported lawyers on matters such as risk screening for new brand names and INNs (International Nonproprietary Name, these are also known as the ‘generic names’ of pharmaceuticals e.g ibuprofen), trade mark infringement matters, and divestment matters.

My second seat was with ViiV Healthcare, a HIV focused joint venture between GSK, Pfizer and Shionogi. The COVID-19 pandemic started during this seat and the remainder of my training contract was done remotely, and plans for an external seat were put on hold.

My final seat before moving back to LBP was with Global Manufacturing and Supply, part of the legal department which deals with matters relating to logistics and manufacture. This seat offered plenty of contract and negotiation experience. 

What does a typical day in your current role look like?

Currently, I am a legal counsel in the Brand Rights team within the Intellectual Property department at Haleon, which is the newly formed consumer health spin-off of GSK. I am responsible for the brands such as Caltrate, Otrivine, Beechams, Night Nurse and most recently Sensodyne.

A typical day involves discussing new possible infringement matters with the business, updating the business on ongoing enforcement matters, advising on risk involved with proposed names for products and patient support programmes or Healthcare Practitioners (HCPs). The Brand Rights team looks after global rights so there is plenty of variety and lots of communication with external counsel and clients in different countries. 

How does working with FMCG consumer health products compare to working with pharmaceutical products?

There are more regulatory considerations in the pharmaceutical industry, which means that processes are generally slower than working with FMCG consumer health products which tends to move much quicker without as many regulatory constraints. In the FMCG world, you have to work at a much quicker pace.

What made you choose law and ultimately IP as a career? Did you consider any alternative career paths?

I chose to study law at university because it seemed like it would open doors, especially for travelling and working with people in other countries. A career in law was a natural step after graduating but I was on the fence about specialising in shipping law as I found it fascinating. The other career I was toying with, which is IP related, was specialising in anti-counterfeiting and brand protection as this doesn’t ordinarily require a legal qualification and most big brands have a department focusing on this. 

What do you love about IP/your job?

I love working with different people in the business – you get to work with people all over the world who are involved in interesting projects. It’s the best way to find out about the business you are working for.

I also love the network of people and the support they offer. There are so many great networks you can join (IP Inclusive, for example) which host events and webinars, and it’s a great way to meet others who are interested in IP.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in a career in IP?

To explore alternative routes in IP, especially in-house. When I was at university there was a lot of pressure to apply for a traditional training contract route, which is great but I found that being in-house and working for different companies was a great way to see how IP impacts a business on a practical level. More niche areas, such as anti-counterfeiting, also offer exposure to IP and there are lots of industry bodies and networks to get involved with. 

Thank you to Vikki Marson, Legal Counsel (IP/Commercial) at Alexander McQueen, for taking the time to interview Mali.

January 2024