Features

Erin Wong – Autodesk

Teamwork makes the IP dream work

Erin Wong may have started her legal career at a law firm, but since 2015, she’s been applying her IP and patent legal skills in the digital world and the companies innovating within it.  

After working at Juniper Networks for half a decade, she started a new role at Autodesk, a software development company that helps its customers design things like greener buildings, smarter products and 3D digital content.  

“My goal is to evangelize the importance and value that protecting IP brings to Autodesk while moving company objectives forward,” she says.  

Autodesk is a provider of software for the architecture, engineering, construction, product design, manufacturing, media and entertainment industries. The company’s industry solutions and platform services, including software products like AutoCAD, Revit, Maya, Fusion 360 and SketchBook, help innovators and creators solve problems, Wong says.  

Erin Wong | Senior Corporate Counsel of Intellectual Property | Autodesk

Erin Wong | Senior Corporate Counsel of Intellectual Property | Autodesk | Photo Credit: Sanjana Chand

As senior corporate counsel of intellectual property, she takes a business-first approach to her role. She works in close collaboration with stakeholders and business partners across the organization, helping to spread the message that everyone should be impassioned about Autodesk’s IP.  

When speaking to Vanguard in April 2023, she said her high-level goal for now and future years is to have the responsibility and knowledge of IP protection expand beyond the legal team and become an essential part of everyone’s day-to-day at Autodesk. 

“IP protection isn’t just the job of IP counsel or the legal team,” she says. “It’s a business imperative.” 

She adds that as those across the company engage in partnerships and share information externally, it becomes every individual’s responsibility to ensure they’re making intentional and strategic decisions about the information they’re revealing and to whom. 

“At Autodesk, we’re creating products that help companies create a better world—but, at the same time, we remain vigilant about what information we’re disclosing to third parties or others within the company,” Wong says. “A major part of my role is educating people about how to identify and interact with sensitive information.” 

Mapping the sensitive information spectrum  

Currently, Wong is creating training, guidance and other resources for clients who access the company’s source code.  

This source code, she explains, includes proprietary and sensitive information. According to her, having a policy and guidelines in place for anyone who needs to access the code, internal or external, is critical in keeping confidential information safe and secure.  

When Wong arrived at Autodesk in June 2020, guidelines were already in place for how to access and use source code. Taking that one step further, she’s putting together a training that will include examples of common scenarios that are encountered when accessing and contributing to source code.  

She hopes providing this relatable context will engage users while helping them understand the possible consequences of negligent behavior. This training is slated to be completed by September 2023.  

“Autodesk’s source code is highly confidential; it has sensitive information, including some trade secrets,” Wong says. “We expect our employees and anyone who accesses it to treat it as such, a message that the training, policies and guidelines all help convey.” 

At the same time, she considers education on the treatment and protection of sensitive information to be an ongoing project. 

“Sensitive information can exist anywhere, and everyone needs to understand this and what to do and what not to do,” she says.  

Confidentiality through collaboration  

This is one of many steps in building out Autodesk’s trade secret and confidentiality programs, which Wong has been working on while also expanding the company’s well-established patent program.  

“Historically, many companies, not just Autodesk, haven’t given trade secret and confidentiality programs the same strategy consideration or resources as patents, so that’s still an area where we can and want to make progress,” she says.  

Erin Wong | Senior Corporate Counsel of Intellectual Property | Autodesk

Photo Credit: Sanjana Chand

Since trade secrets don’t have a registration process the way other areas of IP do, Wong is currently figuring out how to approach the protection of secret, confidential and sensitive information programmatically.  

She says this work is particularly important as it would help Autodesk’s stakeholders take a more consistent approach to decisions regarding the treatment of sensitive information, including with whom it is shared. The challenge, however, is the cross-functional nature of this effort, as it involves different teams and stakeholders across the company with differing strategies and priorities.  

“IP and confidentiality are a key piece of everything we do at Autodesk, but it does require buy-in from other teams—and having those teams make strategic decision-making around information sharing a priority,” Wong says. “I’m working on instilling the importance of this on a company-wide scale.”   

She’s working hard to create a culture of understanding so that IP protection becomes second nature, and something considered in every business decision. However, IP protection is only as good as the information her team receives, she explains.  

According to Wong, ensuring her team is aware and ahead of every release—and has enough time to work with the department in charge of that release to ensure IP protection—is a challenge.  

That’s why education on the identification and treatment of sensitive information is so important. Wong wants IP protection to be a collaborative process. She wants anyone at Autodesk who may share information with third parties—like customers, vendors and suppliers—to know whether that information is sensitive and how to come to her IP team for support and guidance if deciding to share it. 

“We’re here to help the teams navigate and make strategic decisions around IP,” Wong says. “To do that, we need the business to know what to look out for and that they should come to us when needed, so we can assist from the beginning, not just when a problem arises.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer III 2023 Edition here.

Published on: July 6, 2023

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