Protecting Trademarks, Copyrights, and Trade Secrets for Major Brands
By Axiom Law
Longtime Axiom lawyer Elayna Pham has been drawn to intellectual property law for as long as she can remember. With more than two decades of experience under her belt, protecting trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets for major brands has proven to be an engaging, and ever-changing, career.
“I’m constantly putting out fires, and the majority of my interaction isn’t with lawyers; it’s with inventors, creators; heads of business, marketing, global communications; and others who are getting these products out to market, so it’s a lot of fun,” she says.
After leaving the big law firm life behind in 2008, Elayna soon found a home at Axiom and has taken on IP leadership roles at many leading global companies.
“If you have the skills, Axiom will let you shine for their clients without any institutional hierarchy which might hold you back otherwise,” she says.
Building on a passion for IP
Elayna felt called to IP law from the start. In fact, it was Chicago-Kent College of Law’s renowned IP program that attracted her to the Windy City, after earning her undergraduate degree in journalism from American University in Washington, D.C. She headed to Chicago with a law school scholarship, immersed herself in all things IP, and eventually rose to serve as the student body president.
It wasn’t long before Elayna was climbing the ranks at two large law firms, handling all manner of IP transactional and litigation matters. Trademarks and copyrights quickly emerged as her specialty areas. It was a fast-paced nine years where Elayna earned her chops and fine-tuned her abilities, but she didn’t feel her work or her skills were particularly valued.
“Large law firms can be motivated primarily by billable hours and maximizing profits, but Axiom’s focus is very different. Profits are important, but so are fair rates, dedicated servicing, and deep relationships,” says Elayna, who interviewed with Axiom and was immediately intrigued by its unique model. “I’d never been an in-house lawyer before, and Axiom had this hybrid model that felt very entrepreneurial to me. I’d never encountered anything like it.”
She came onboard ready for something new and exciting — and that’s exactly what she got.
“It was the chance for me to really break out of the mold of the hierarchy of a large law firm,” says Elayna. “It was also a chance to advance very quickly and take ownership of a big bucket of work that I knew I could do.”
Building deep client relationships to better protect their IP
Elayna hit the ground running at Axiom, joining the team as an interim head of IP for a Fortune 50 company right out of the gate. It was a role that included overseeing a portfolio of thousands of trademarks. After six months, she assumed the position of primary IP counsel for a global financial consulting company. Not surprisingly, she continued on this trajectory, and eventually assumed subsequent IP leadership roles for other large companies.
“At large law firms, you have so many clients that it’s difficult to do a focused and spectacular job for any particular client; it’s more of a balancing act,” says Elayna. “At Axiom, you’re deeply integrated with your clients, their goals, their issues. Being able to focus on just a select few clients lends itself to a better overall relationship, and as a result, better service for the client.”
For Elayna, it’s a model that expertly blends the in-house and outside counsel experiences — what she calls “the best of both worlds.” It has its perks on the client side, as well. Elayna and her team are deeply connected to each client’s goals and culture, and are uniquely situated to work very closely with the stakeholders and business heads of the companies they represent. In other words, they know how each project and each deal they handle could affect their client’s goals and position globally.
“As Axiom attorneys, we’re counseling our clients holistically, which often saves them money and allows us to be more effective and efficient,” she says. “We have the benefit of a true internal perspective to drive how we handle each matter for our clients.”
A day in the life of an IP lawyer
As an IP lawyer, Elayna enjoys a routine that changes from day to day — and that variety and excitement is precisely what she loves so much about the job. Her Axiom roles focus heavily on trademarks and the protection of brand names. In addition to a company’s primary house mark, clients typically have hundreds (if not thousands) of product names and service line names that Elayna helps protect.
“It’s not enough to just register a trademark,” she says. “You have to actively police it, enforce it, and control use of it in the marketplace. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing your rights.” She notes that litigation is very interesting in her practice area: “It’s easy to feel like the IP police, because we sometimes work with the FBI and other enforcement agencies to enforce our clients' rights, such as in a counterfeit goods situation.”
Elayna also spends time protecting anything creative that these brands bring to life, like articles, films, books, artworks, and even software code.
Safeguarding trade secrets is another specialty area for her. “There’s no registration available for a trade secret. Once it’s out, it’s blown, and you’ve lost your commercial advantage,” she says. Elayna assists her clients with developing trade secret protection programs, to minimize risk of disclosure of confidential and proprietary information.
Integrating personal passions with professional life
Outside of her legal work, Elayna is a passionate tennis player. “I’m not brilliant, but I could easily be out on the court playing matches all day long,” she says with a laugh.
She also loves lecturing, and was an adjunct professor teaching trade secret law at one point. It isn’t all that surprising that she’ll soon be teaching a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) course for Axiom. Creative writing is on her list of hobbies, as well.
“There’s also something about my brain that really loves languages,” says Elayna, who is fluent in three languages and actively learning several more.
The shifting legal industry: authentic engagement over billable hours
Elayna has been working in the field long enough to recognize the old model of traditional law firms is gradually becoming less and less relevant in today’s workforce. In other words, many prefer more authentic engagement over billable structures and mandates. “Clients are getting savvier about the level of engagement they deserve, because it’s not a billable hours game; it’s a relationship game,” she says. “I know our clients appreciate the level at which we operate with and know them, and how we effectively serve as true in-house team members. These are deep and meaningful relationships we’ve established, and it counts for a lot when representing them. We’re more effective and engaged with our clients when practicing under the Axiom model.”
The legal industry is rapidly evolving, and clients want and deserve more from their counsel — and this is one of Axiom’s core values. Drop our team a note today to connect with other lawyers like Elayna who are thinking outside the box to reimagine legal services.
Axiom lawyer Lithemba Velleman brings tenacity to both finance law and fashion writing.
Axiom lawyer Conan Chitham balances legal work with serving as a Minister in the Church of England.
How Axiom lawyer and team lead David McIntyre helps a major sportswear company make real progress toward their business goals.