Protecting Creations of the Human Mind
By Dorothy Wright
Nora E. Garrote ’80 views technology from a unique perspective — as an attorney whose task is to protect the creations of the human mind. A specialist in technology transactions and intellectual property, Garrote is a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Venable LLP. Her diverse practice focuses on intellectual property; technology transactions, transfers and counseling; computer law; and Internet and new-media law. When she began her career 20 years ago, the application of intellectual-property law to technology was uncharted territory; given the pace at which technology changes, in some respects it remains so.
Born in Havana, Cuba, Garrote moved with her family to San Juan, Puerto Rico, when she was three years old. Academically curious and a high achiever in elementary and high school, she was encouraged to apply to colleges in the States. “My parents were big supporters of my going to Bryn Mawr,” she recalls. “They thought a women’s college would be good for me. It had a high academic ranking; at the same time, it was located in a small suburban setting. It also had a wonderful summer program for minority students.”
For Garrote, who majored in political science and Spanish literature, Bryn Mawr was the right choice. “I loved being at a women’s college,” she says. “There is no mixed bag at Bryn Mawr; I was truly amazed at the accomplishments of the young women around me. To this day I am very grateful for the experience. I only regret that I can’t send my sons to Bryn Mawr!”
At Columbia University Law School, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, Garrote worked on the Columbia Human Rights Law Review and represented clients of Columbia’s health and family-law clinics. After graduation Garrote headed for Washington, where she hoped to become involved in government, regulatory issues and advocacy work. Acknowledging that she was motivated by her family’s experiences in Cuba, she says, “My family instilled a strong sense of outrage at what had happened in Cuba and the belief that, at all costs, people should avoid allowing communities, peoples and countries to fall into that kind of situation. But at my age, that belief was at a conceptual level, particularly since there were no lawyers in my family to show me how I could use the tools of a political science and legal education to make a difference.”
Learning by Doing
Early in Garrote’s career, her strong grasp of contract law led to assignments in communications and intellectual-property law, which she learned by doing. “Communications and intellectual property weren’t studied in law school at the time; neither would I have known then that this is what I wanted to do,” she says. “It is a matter of the choices I had available in my initial firm.”
Garrote’s scope of work broadened when she joined the communications and intellectual-property department of Piper & Marbury LLP in 1986. She and her colleagues focused on the needs of major providers of large computer systems and telecommunications systems. “An understanding of those technologies and intellectual-capital assets is fundamental to what goes on today,” she notes.
The exponential growth of the Internet raised many new legal issues in the mid-’90s. “That’s when the Internet was starting to shift from a primarily governmental and ‘geeky’ backbone to the mainstream,” Garrote recalls. “We had to transfer the age-old principles of intellectual-property law and contract law to this new medium. It was dizzying. Many times we never knew what hit us, and from which direction. We were constantly thinking outside the box.”
The True Revolution
Recently Garrote has been involved in the licensing of wireless optimization software to telecom carriers in Latin America. “To me, wireless technology is the true revolution of the 1990s, and we’ll see it perfected in the years to come,” Garrote says. “I think it is going to get to the point where there will be an integrated wireless environment in which people are going to have access to information everywhere.”
First, Garrote says, the industry needs to address security and privacy. “As you use the airwaves to transmit confidential business and personal data, you truly need to be mindful of how you can maximize the security of that transmission,” she says. “Until effective standards are developed, not everyone will be ready for wireless technology.”
Garrote anticipates the application of wireless technology in the expansion and improvement of health care in underserved communities. “There is a big push to bringing wireless technology to telemedicine,” she observes. “This will enable health-care providers to receive alerts, analyze diagnostic data, and receive test results and images anywhere.”
Reflecting on the serendipitous nature of her career path, Garrote says, “As you go through your early years in the profession, and then, as a young partner, you are fueled by doing your best for your clients and showing your colleagues your true colors. It’s only later that you can say, ‘This is the best thing that has ever happened to me professionally.’ I just love what I do.”
About the Author
Dorothy Wright contributes news and feature articles on science, technology, engineering and general interest topics to a variety of publications, including Civil Engineering and Engineering News Record.