There’s a unique detour in Alex Frisbie’s already nontraditional journey. After building an impressive resume as an intellectual property lawyer in both private practice and in-house, she found herself at an impasse. She didn’t want to leave her position at Carrier Corporation, but with two small children, she was unable to make the move to Florida that would be required for her to continue in her role.
At the eleventh hour, Frisbie was asked if she would be interested in working in a different position at Carrier, one outside of legal, in product safety.
“At first, I thought it was crazy,” she admits. “It wasn’t patent law. It wasn’t even law. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there were similarities between product safety and IP. I’m so glad I took a chance. One of my mentors once told me, ‘When you have an opportunity to try something different, it can be a great thing to take a leap of faith.’”
Frisbie, who currently serves as associate director of IP at Carrier, is, in many ways, an open book. She freely shares her experiences in hopes of providing the next generation of leaders motivation and inspiration for finding their own path.
She failed her first bar attempt in Ohio (before ultimately passing, and going on to pass the infamous and combined New York/New Jersey bar on the first try), and says it’s important for aspiring lawyers not to be discouraged if they weren’t necessarily ready for that first test.
Her experiences span from HVAC and refrigeration systems to smoke and security alarms to elevator and escalator components to fuel cells to packaging for pharmaceutical, cosmetics, and even media. If you’re keeping count, Frisbie, with a few exceptions, has touched almost any product that can have a patent.
But it’s the lawyer’s willingness to step outside of her role that can hopefully serve inspiration to more lawyers looking to grow their practice areas in unique ways. While initially resistant, Frisbie says at one point during her tenure in product safety, she thought she might never go back to law.
“Obtaining patents in order to protect someone’s invention takes a great deal of time,” she explains. “In product safety, there were outcomes that were so much more immediate. You knew you’d prevented a potential safety issue or other negative outcome in real time. That’s incredibly gratifying.”
Frisbie eventually returned to IP. And, considering her history and family, it’s no surprise. The daughter of a journalist and an architect, one can easily draw the throughline to IP attorney. She draws upon the meticulous engineering of her mother’s architectural work and her late father’s emphatic focus on perfect grammar and love of lexicology.
However, her early brush with IP was a frustrating one. In the mid-1980s, her brother Chris, who Frisbie describes as “an absolute genius,” disassembled his mother’s Polaroid camera and his sister’s tennis shoes. The result? “He discovered that the battery pack from the camera was flat, so if he cut out some space for the pack, cut holes in the sole and inserted some LEDs, the shoes would light up when you applied pressure (or stepped down),” she explains.
Frisbie’s brother thought his parents would be furious, but instead they encouraged him to submit his idea to a national competition sponsored by a battery company. There, he won second place. His father, who worked for a fashion industry trade journal, submitted the ideas to several footwear companies on behalf of his son. None of them expressed interest in the idea, but the following season, one company rolled out the idea on its own, providing no credit or acknowledgement.
“Had we gotten a patent, I’d probably be on a yacht right now,” Frisbie says, laughing. “But I was in eighth grade. I wasn’t a lawyer yet. Every time I see those shoes now, I get a little angry. I use that whenever I’m helping an inventor protect their invention. I want to fight for them like I wished I could have fought to protect my brother’s amazing idea.”
Today, Frisbie is as resolute about helping the next generation of IP lawyers as she is about acknowledging the mentors who helped her find her way in her own career. These mentors include the late Ed Baranowski, her early IP mentor at Porter Wright Morris & Arthur; John Torrente, senior counsel at Cowan Liebowitz & Latman; Marylee Jenkins, partner at ArentFox Schiff; Lisa Bongiovi, vice president and general counsel at Carrier Europe, Middle East, and Africa; Dan Rush, retired vice president of product safety at Carrier; and Meghan Toner, vice president and general counsel of Carrier’s Fire and Security Products business.
Frisbie also has done her own coaching, both in and outside of law. The former rower has coached crew teams throughout her life and still finds a way to connect her day-to-day with the sport she loves.
“Crew is unique. Since you practice and compete on the water, there is always a safety aspect you must be aware of and respect,” she explains. “I learned how to keep the team motivated and how to drive each person to be the strongest and best rower they could, while also working together to be a strong, synchronized, and fast boat.”
Sometimes that means trying something new and sometimes that means taking a chance. But, if Frisbie is the metric by which lawyers should consider stepping outside of their comfort zones, the overwhelming answer should be yes.
“It’s been a pleasure working with Alex over the years. Her diverse legal and technical experience is invaluable in resolving intellectual property issues. She is a well-respected role model for future leaders.”
–Phil Colburn, Co-Managing Partner