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Jennifer McDowell of the International Trademark Association: “Travel broadens the mind and makes us all more connected; More travel can help us find solutions to our pressing problems”

I am convinced that travel broadens the mind and makes us all more connected. Anything that we can do to encourage worldliness takes us out of our little bubble with its implicit biases. Since I’m not sure how to parlay that into a movement, I asked my teenage daughter and her friends. They’ve got such […]


I am convinced that travel broadens the mind and makes us all more connected. Anything that we can do to encourage worldliness takes us out of our little bubble with its implicit biases. Since I’m not sure how to parlay that into a movement, I asked my teenage daughter and her friends. They’ve got such creative ideas. They suggest that kids use travel (sort of an exchange program, starting at early ages) as a way to experience problems on earth, so that they can find solutions to those problems. Pollution and climate change are high on their list of world crises to solve.


I had the pleasure to interview Jennifer McDowell, Director of Government Relations at the International Trademark Association. As Director of Government Relations, Ms. McDowell serves as the Association’s liaison with the federal and state legislatures and agencies and participates in the development of Association policies and positions on federal, state, and relevant international agency issues. Ms. McDowell has a J.D. from The Catholic University of America and a B.S. from the University of Alabama.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As the first person on both sides of my family to attend college, I had to figure out a lot on my own and with the help of generous mentors. Honestly, I never dreamed of a legal career when I was younger. I was very proud to have simply finished college at the state school in my hometown.

During college, I was a cooperative education student and for two semesters, I worked full-time at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), earning college credit while gaining real-world experience. Based on my work at the NLRB, I was lucky enough to be offered a position as an NLRB examiner after graduation. In performing that job, I realized that the law was not as far away as I’d imagined.

After four and a half years at the NLRB, I finally got enough courage to quit my job, move to Washington, D.C., and attend law school. I’ve been in D.C. ever since, and have worked at a law firm and several government agencies, and now I’m excited to be with International Trademark Association (INTA).

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

INTA is a global mission-driven association comprised of brand owners and professionals from 187 countries. It is truly a collaborative effort! INTA members, who are located on every continent, work together with each other and with INTA staff to support trademarks and related intellectual property with the goal of increasing consumer trust, supporting economic growth, and helping to boost innovation. INTA engages in work with the stakeholder community to help build and maintain strong intellectual property frameworks in addition to focusing on IP enforcement, outreach and education.

INTA’s D.C. office actively engages with all branches of the U.S. government. In the legislative branch, INTA works collaboratively with Members of Congress on the Congressional Trademark Caucus (CTC), which hosts briefings for stakeholders focused on intellectual property outreach and education. Additionally, INTA engages with trademark offices worldwide, including the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), to support consumers and businesses seeking strong trademark protection.

My story at INTA is just beginning, but I have enjoyed meeting and working with the global INTA community as we seek to support and enhance trademark protection and education throughout the world.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

To support strong intellectual property frameworks at home and abroad, INTA’s D.C. office engages every day with the stakeholder community, including the foreign diplomatic corps, Members of Congress, and government officials from key agencies such as the United States Department of State, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, and the USPTO.

INTA is excited about the growth and expansion of the Congressional Trademark Caucus, which affords us the opportunity to collaborate with Members of Congress and their staff on hosting educational briefings and events focused on intellectual property outreach and consumer engagement.

INTA is also thrilled about our “Power of Trademarks” exhibit, which opened June 3 at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum at the USPTO. The museum is open six days a week, does not charge admission, and welcomes the public and groups of all sizes. Appealing to professionals and consumers of all ages, the “Power of Trademarks” exhibit provides information and history about trademarks and brands, and includes an interactive display for visitors to learn about the dangers of purchasing counterfeit products — everything from toys to pharmaceuticals.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

I’m not sure that any advice I would give is specific to women. My strategy is to play to the strength of each person. Everyone has different talents, and a good leader needs to figure out as quickly as possible what those are. It’s all about making each project a win-win for the employees, the team, and the organization.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are too many stories here to share them all. Mentors have been the foundation of my life. From the neighbor who helped me with science homework in middle school to the friend who taught me about wildflowers in the woods, just last weekend — I learn best in a supportive, trusting, communicative environment. People amaze me because everyone has special talents, and most of them are willing to share, if you are willing to listen.

My most trusted advisor has been a friend I’ve known since I was 19 years old, when I was a sophomore in college. He worked at the NLRB with me, and took me under his wing, teaching me how to write, analyze legal issues, interview witnesses, and present information. These basic work skills were invaluable for professional success, and needed to be honed, in my case. Even after I left my home state of Alabama, he continued to be a significant resource to me in D.C., providing excellent networking opportunities and emotional support as I endured the rigors of law school. Our friendship continues to this day, and he has become a real part of my family.

In each of the jobs I’ve held since law school, mentors have made all the difference. A senior associate at Morgan Lewis taught me how to litigate a case, while maintaining my sanity. A manager at USPTO expected me to rise to his high expectations, and I did. USTR colleagues taught me how to maintain grace under fire. All of these people, and many more, represent building blocks in my life.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One success from my work history that I am very proud of is the USPTO patent pro bono program, which matches under-resourced inventors with volunteer patent lawyers. It’s very rewarding to see an inventor realize his or her dream and protect the intellectual property they’ve created. My biggest hope is that these inventions are commercialized — which is good for American innovation, and is also good for the small inventor who creates economic opportunities for themselves and others right in their own community.

An initiative started by the USPTO in 2011, the program received a real boost when President Obama issued an executive action in 2014 mandating expansion of the program throughout the United States. The USPTO’s Under Secretary asked me to lead this initiative, and I created a network non-profit organizations throughout the entire nation, to connect inventors with volunteer attorneys. In just the past two years, well over 1,000 inventors have been matched with patent attorneys.

The World Intellectual Property Association and the World Economic Forum have begun an international version of this program, which now operates in five countries: Colombia, Ecuador, Morocco, the Philippines, and South Africa.

On a related note, INTA has a Pro Bono Trademark Clearinghouse that provides free legal services to eligible individuals, small and medium sized enterprises, and non-profit organizations. This initiative is a great resource for budding entrepreneurs and others who don’t have the knowledge and financial resources to gain trademark protection on their own.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

Eat dessert first! No explanation is necessary.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am convinced that travel broadens the mind and makes us all more connected. Anything that we can do to encourage worldliness takes us out of our little bubble with its implicit biases. Since I’m not sure how to parlay that into a movement, I asked my teenage daughter and her friends. They’ve got such creative ideas. They suggest that kids use travel (sort of an exchange program, starting at early ages) as a way to experience problems on earth, so that they can find solutions to those problems. Pollution and climate change are high on their list of world crises to solve.

I look forward to traveling to Singapore in April 2020 for INTA’s Annual Meeting; it’s a great opportunity to meet and mingle with the global IP community, to share ideas, and to learn about trends and emerging issues around the world. I’m sure I’ll feel more connected as a result!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Be kind because everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about.

Empathy is one of the most important emotions. We all strive to do our best, but for some folks, their best may look different depending on the personal circumstances they are experiencing at the time. I always have high expectations for myself and others, but I try to understand that we are all human. The smartest people I know are also the most compassionate.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Malala. I would love to meet her because she resonates with me and my daughter’s generation. She transcends age, race, gender, and cultural barriers, and can teach us all about courage, conviction, and resilience.

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