Madiha Khan Student Writer, Windsor Law LTEC Lab Dual J.D., 2019
Dr. Catherine Ng, a Windsor Law alumnae is a Senior Lecturer and Director of the Post-Graduate Research Student Training Programme at the University of Aberdeen, School of Law. Dr. Ng started her work as a lecturer after a period of private practice in Toronto, and has completed her DPhil in intellectual property law from the University of Oxford (UK) and her post-doctorate work from the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland. Her main areas of teaching are law and its relation to intellectual property, the media, the arts, legal history, and anthropology. In an interview with LTEC Lab, Dr. Ng discusses what it’s like teaching IP law in an international setting, how she got there, and what her time was like at Windsor.
1) You completed your LLB at Windsor Law in Canada and are currently a Senior Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. What do you personally find are some of major challenges and benefits of choosing to teach and research law in Europe as compared to Canada?
I would be happy to share my experience working as a lecturer at the University of Aberdeen because I have not worked in a similar capacity in Canada. I must confess as a student I never appreciated all the work involved behind the scenes; I suspect that would be the same at Windsor Law as it is at the University of Aberdeen. At the University of Aberdeen, in addition to research and teaching, lecturers broadly speaking (whether ‘professors’, ‘associate professors’, or ‘assistant professors’ in Canadian terms) also take on a pastoral role. I am a personal tutor to 21 students and I follow their development throughout their time at the University of Aberdeen. The role entails offering to meet with tutees on a regular basis throughout the school year. Sometimes I arrange group meetings among certain tutees when I see that they may mutually benefit from peer support. Tutees may also make appointments to discuss issues which affect their studies or concerns they have about career outlook. These meetings, whether group or individual, are very useful for me to appreciate what my tutees are going through from their perspectives. It is a rather privileged position to get to know my tutees on such a personal basis. I am so very grateful for all the staff and peer support I received during my own student years in Canada and in the UK. I just hope I am able to share at least some of that positive energy and experience in my work as a lecturer.
2) What drew you to IP and technology law?
I was practicing corporate commercial law in Toronto. As part of my practice, from time to time, I retained IP counsel to assist with IP matters. I guess from our discussions, it became evident to the good folks at the IP firm that my inquisitiveness about IP matters extended beyond the particular issues in question, to the more fundamental questions about IP. I remember receiving a thick binder full of non-client related IP materials from the IP firm and reading it from top to bottom, utterly captivated and fascinated. I knew I had found my intellectual sweet spot in the law.
3) For a period, you worked at a private practice in Toronto. How was that experience and what led you to pursue further graduate education in law as opposed to remaining solely a practitioner?
Well, continuing on from my answer to the last question, the binder of IP materials took me through a journey of seeking answers to my questions about IP. It is still very much a journey because once a question is answered, a few more spring up. I decided to further my IP education in a more formal way. I entered academia with the very gracious blessings of my employer at the time. I am still in touch with some of my former work colleagues from my practitioner days and meet up with them when I am in Toronto. I was and still am very fortunate in that I very much enjoyed practicing law – it was really a wonderful time, working with colleagues serving our clients, while at the same time also learning more about the law as I was practicing it, and seeing how the law impacted on real life clients. My present journey of seeking answers to questions about IP is very much enriched and informed by my experience from having been a law practitioner. After all, IP laws in Canada and the UK are shaped in large part by law practitioners.
4) You completed a DPhil (PhD) in intellectual property law at the University of Oxford, UK and did postdoctoral work at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland. What motivated you to pursue an international graduate education in law?
It was just a natural progression. I wanted to continue learning, and it was important for me to be exposed to different perspectives and approaches to the law. I began my work at the Graduate Institute (Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement) first as a Europaeum scholar from Oxford and stayed on after I completed my DPhil. The Graduate Institute has a well-deserved excellent reputation for its approach from an international perspective. It was, as was Oxford too, a very community-spirited environment for learning. Being in Geneva also gave me ample opportunities to visit the World Intellectual Property Organisation – a United Nations agency, located there. Those visits further broadened my horizons on IP law and policies. At WIPO, I was able to have candid discussions with IP experts and representatives from jurisdictions at varying levels of IP law and policy development. This type of exposure both at the Graduate Institute and at WIPO would be difficult to find elsewhere. 5) Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to Canadian law students who are interested in pursuing international legal education, such as in Europe?
For those who are interested, my suggestion would be to always keep an open mind to opportunities and new ideas. My formal education taught me much more than the law and the professional skills required to practice law. The informal education that came with pursuing an international legal education taught me even more about the contexts in which law operates. Sometimes the same issues in life and in law are resolved very differently in different cultural and social contexts. Living among fellow students who were from the host jurisdiction gave me precious insights about its cultural and social contexts. It was also an excellent opportunity to meet other foreign students. For what it is worth, I would highly recommend international legal education for anyone interested. It is not everyone’s cup of tea, and it is not necessarily the most direct, linear, or easiest route to a career. For me, it has been an extraordinarily enriching experience professionally and personally. This experience will be with me for the rest of my life.
6) What are your current research interests? Are there any upcoming projects or papers that you are currently working on that you would like to share?
As mentioned earlier about drawing from my practitioner experience, I am still trying to work out some inconsistencies – as I see them, in aspects of trade marks law in various jurisdictions: inconsistencies within the law, and inconsistencies between the concerns of the disputing parties on the one hand and the remedies offered by the law on the other. 7) For your undergraduate education, you completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree. However, the majority of students who pursue IP law tend to have science or engineering degrees. Can you offer some advice for those law students without a science/engineering degree interested in pursuing IP law?
IP law offers career opportunities in different strands. IP law includes, inter alia, trade marks law and copyright law which generally do not require much formal training or knowledge in science or engineering. Even when it comes to patent law, at a policy level, the focus is generally on the legal issues, their underpinning policies, the population they affect and how. In academia as in certain other sectors dealing with IP law, we may, when needed or desirable, collaborate with those who have expertise in other disciplines such as science or engineering to guide us or to team up with us. So there is scope for those without science or engineering degrees to pursue a career in IP law.
8) What memory(ies) would you like to share about your years at Windsor Law?
There are just so very many wonderful memories I have from Windsor Law! Living in residence, mooting, working with student societies, attending conferences; it is difficult to pin down. Given the context of this interview, one of the abiding memories that comes to mind is taking the Property Law course in French. It was for me a challenging and yet enormously fun course. Part of the fun was in the challenge itself. My friends who took Property Law in English (as did the vast majority of those in my year) at the time asked me ‘why?’ I guess this is one of those dots in the trajectory of one’s formal education and career development that makes more sense in retrospect than in forward planning. That experience, among others along similar lines, helped me immeasurably with my work in Geneva, and continues to inform my work here at the University of Aberdeen. Thank you, Windsor Law!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.