“Before going into law, decide if this is what you really want to do,” Tanzina Chowdhury cautions. “The work is exciting, but it’s long hours. You have to really enjoy what you want to do.”
Chowdhury didn’t know she wanted to go into law when she started her undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago, but she discovered an interest in legal issues facing the medical field in her biomedical ethics courses. That interest drove her to law school, where she studied patents and other areas of law governing the sciences, such as environmental and health law. “It would give me a chance to combine my love of law and science in many fields, as well as history, government, philosophy, and more,” she says.
During law school, Chowdhury joined Foley and Lardner as a law clerk. She quickly learned that legal advice must be cost-effective, concise, and part of the business’s mission. “That’s the difference between law in academics versus the business context,” Chowdhury says.
She was at Foley and Lardner for about two years and offered to join Mayer Brown as a first-year associate while in law school. Interested in being closer to technology, Chowdhury moved to New York City, where she took a position at Bayer HealthCare as a consultant. There, she focused on patents for long-term projects.
Chowdhury left Bayer to join GE Global Research in 2003 as a part of its in-house counsel. She helped create and manage a section of the organization’s intellectual property profile, and she worked on initiatives such as nanotechnology. Her attention to detail, knowledge of patent law, and energetic personality earned her the respect of her colleagues, and more than two years later, she became the first in-house intellectual property counsel of Intercat.
In addition to teaching her the intricacies of patent law, these transitions gave Chowdhury exposure to many different business technologies and philosophies. At GE, she learned the language of Six Sigma. When she joined Intercat, she had to learn an entirely new industry, so Chowdhury worked with mentors to understand fluid catalytic cracking and to get tutorials on how the company’s devices operated.
“Industry norms and company objectives help determine the specifics, but everything doesn’t have to be perfect to enable internal clients and support the business.”
In all of her in-house roles, she has developed comprehensive, long-term insight into specific markets in order to give practical and relevant advice. “When addressing a patent application, for example, I need be able to be able to assess the full business environment,” she explains. “Will filing give us a competitive edge? Is there demand for the product that justifies the cost of filing, prosecuting, and maintaining the patent for up to twenty years? All of that involves working with the business team and understanding the business, not just the law.”
A mentor at GE Global Research recognized her talent and interest in working with new technologies, as well as her love of science, which eventually led to a position with Entegris, an equipment manufacturing company based in Massachusetts. Entegris operates facilities in the United States, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Korea, Japan, Israel, Germany, and France. Chowdhury’s insight into the intricacies of patent law across many disciplines and geographies helps the company manage global intellectual property issues.
Because she has worked in different technologies, such as life science, oil and gas, and semiconductor manufacturing, Chowdhury knows that intellectual property advice varies not just by industry, but by geography.
Chowdhury emphasizes that it is the business, not just the law, that should be at the forefront of an in-house attorney’s practice. “You always protect the business but learn that some risks are tolerable,” she says. “Industry norms and company objectives help determine the specifics, but everything doesn’t have to be perfect to enable internal clients and support the business.”
Chowdhury enjoys the range of her work at Entegris, including prosecution, writing opinions, and helping manage contracts and litigation. As the company works to expand its product offerings, Chowdhury’s background in intellectual property has helped the company grow. “I have the good fortune to have a boss who was my previous mentor back of GE,” Chowdhury explains, “and I was interested in learning new technology area.” She adds, “But what I love is the science.”