In an interview with IP Attorney & Strategist, Aoife Elizabeth Butler. IIBN asked Aoife to give to readers a brief description of her business and the services that she offers.
You can visit Aoife Elizabeth Butler website here
Aoife revealed that the services cover all aspects of intellectual property (“IP”), e.g., counselling innovative entities to evaluate and develop IP strategies for business success, patent landscaping and analytics for start-ups and established companies, preparing reports to seek VC funding, confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, assessment of competitors’ IP portfolios, due diligence investigations, complex patent litigation (enforcing patents and defending accused infringers in disputes involving a wide range of issues and technical disciplines, ranging from financial trading software technologies to pharmaceuticals). Coupling almost 20 years’ experience in the IP sector with a diverse set of skills, qualifications and background, lends a unique perspective to businesses.
How did you get the idea/ concept for your business?
Setting up a legal practice is not exactly a new concept! Based on my experience, however, treating clients with respect, and working with their financial situation is. While I was an associate at a number of firms, I continually saw clients who were denied representation, advice and counselling because they were not in a position to bankrupt their company to pay the legal fees. That is not right. After my first year in law school I clerked at a law firm in Chicago, and I remember the managing partner saying to me that everybody deserves representation, especially in a world where the laws are written as complex as they are, and ignorance of the law is no defence. That has always stayed with me and so when I had experience in the bank and an opportunity to do something different, I did.
Give a brief account of your education background.
IP Strategy at Harvard Business School; Patent Analytics and Landscaping at IIT Kent; currently pursuing a patent valuation certification; law degree from the University of London, Master’s in Chemistry from the University of Dublin, Trinity College. In addition to these paper credentials there are so many life lessons that colour the “education”, like growing up on a farm, interviewing accused murderers in Mountjoy, participating in a surgery in Uganda without electricity, speaking with a Holocaust victim, watching the development of a child’s mind. Everything we do adds to our education bank, and we should always be looking for ways to adapt what we have learned in a new context.
Did you always know/ever think you would become an entrepreneur when you were younger?
I have been known to do things differently on occasion – when I was 13 I wanted to go on a school trip to Paris but my parents said it was too expensive, so I found a job and became the youngest post-office clerk in Ireland and went to Paris; when I was 16 I wanted to get away so I applied for and won a scholarship to attend a college preparatory school in Chicago for a year and “graduated high-school”; when I graduated with my law degree and was trying to get my foot in the door of U.S. firms, I worked as a temp P.A. for a law firm CEO! I never considered any of those things, or any of my other moves to be entrepreneurial until I read an article by a Harvard professor who defined entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled.” What a great definition. And, to me, it confirms that nobody “becomes” an entrepreneur, we are all born with entrepreneurship in our DNA and just need opportunity to spur it.
Is entrepreneurship a common trait in your family?
Sourcing and pursuing opportunities and finding our own way is definitely our modus operandi! My older brother fits the image of what most perceive today as an entrepreneur having set up a number of companies, and like all great entrepreneurs has had some successes and some failures, but every day he continues to keep at it. My younger brother runs his own woodworking shop and is also a farmer – the original entrepreneur! My sister used to run her own consulting business. So, I think four out of four of us exercising the entrepreneurship gene qualifies as common!
Did you have prior knowledge of the industry before setting up your company?
Having worked as an IP attorney for some large global firms I was certainly familiar with the substance of the service I would be providing. What I was less familiar with was the business of running my own show – they do not teach you that in law school or even working for a firm! I firmly believe, however, that everything we have done previously can serve us as we go forward, we just need to be willing to break it down and/or shift the context. When you can do that, you realise you have all the skills you need, you just need to trust in yourself and go for it.
What was your previous work experience (if any)? Do you think this gave you an advantage when setting up your business?
I worked as a temp secretary for the CEO and a paralegal for an IP boutique, as a scientific adviser for a global firm, and as junior and senior associates for global firms, so it is fair to say I had experience in every aspect of the sector – from changing the ink cartridge in a Xerox machine to presenting to a global Board of Directors, so that certainly helped. I did not have experience setting up or running a practice, and that did not help. At the end of the day, it was more about focusing on what I did have and not what I was lacking.
How did you initially fund your business? (self-funded, government funding, etc)
As a service provider wherein the service is largely knowledge, setting up my own practice did not come with the same costs as say a start-up that is manufacturing a new product. So, I was self-funded.
Looking back, would you have changed the method of funding you chose?
As a knowledge service I did not have a significant need for funding as I started; and, had I sourced funding, I think it would have been easy to spend unnecessarily – on marketing or networking. Because I was limited to my own funding, it forced me to plan, to be prudent, to maximize. I think if you are going to source funding to set up, you should have a specific plan for how that money will be used and stick to the plan. It is so easy as a start-up to burn through money if you are throwing it at every aspect of the business; it also compromises what you can do with it if you are spreading it so broadly.
What characteristics do you feel benefited you most when starting your business?
Honesty, loyalty, and staying true to myself – not compromising my work ethic or the standard of my work, regardless of client situations or peer pressure. If your vision changes by choice or through learning the market, then go with it; however, if you are thinking of changing course simply because peers are questioning your vision without any support for their arguments against you, think twice. Trust your gut.
To what do you attribute your company’s success/growth to?
Trust. My clients trust in the work that I do for them and the commitment I make to them. They trust in my honesty and directness and in knowing that I am going to tell them what they need to hear not what they want to hear. No matter what you do your clients, customers, audience have to trust you, as soon as you lose that trust you are in trouble and gaining it back can be very difficult. Communicate, and do it honestly, and your clients, customers, and audience will appreciate you. They may not like what you said, but they will appreciate and respect you for it!
What is your opinion on the importance of a professional network for an entrepreneur?
Networking and instant gratification are, for the most part, contradictory. Yes, you may get lucky on occasion, but for the most part networking is for the long haul. Networking is important, but it has to be about facilitating connectivity, fostering and developing the goals of the people you meet, and propelling them to do better. Through the development of that kind of environment, it is the friendships you develop, the bonds you build, the trust you earn, the skills you demonstrate, the perspectives you garner, the contexts you can utilise for colour, that will propel your own goals. And if you are looking for a network that embraces that environment, then look no further than IIBN!
Do you think entrepreneurship has changed in recent years?
I think it has. Social entrepreneurship has become more prevalent, which is great, but there are also some ways in which entrepreneurship has become tainted, it has lost its depth so to speak. It has become “cool” to be an entrepreneur, so a lot of people claim it, but not everyone is truly engaging, not everyone is pursuing opportunity and pushing boundaries doing it. For so many it has become simply about personal gain and fame.
Would you ever consider starting another company or involving yourself in new start-ups again?
There is an invigoration that comes from working with a start-up; and when that is a start-up that is focused on something you are passionate about, it takes invigoration to another level. Every day I work with start-ups, it is the nature of my business, and I do not see that changing anytime soon; but, I will continue to cherish just a little bit more the days I get to work on concepts that personally resonate with me.
If you had one piece of advice for a new entrepreneur, what would it be?