Steve Mortinger is a vice president, associate general counsel and managing attorney for intellectual property (IP) law at IBM. He leads a team of intellectual property lawyers who provide guidance on IP protection and monetization for all research, products, services, and analytics groups.
Were you always interested in intellectual property law?
No, that’s one of the interesting things about the career that I’ve had at IBM. I was always able to find challenging opportunities within the company that kept me engaged and curious. I found my way to IP through a series of positions—some had an element of IP to them and some did not.
Your career at IBM spans nearly three decades. What were some of the positions that you held?
I started at IBM in the areas of procurement and human resources before moving to a marketing and services job near our headquarters. One day, my boss at the time said, “We’re starting this new business called IT Outsourcing. Would you like to be a part of it?” At the time, I didn’t realize that it was going to be 70-80 percent travel because we were working on multi-billion-dollar deals that took months to negotiate, and most of the time, I was on the road. After doing that for a while, I wanted to spend more time with my family. I took a job in San Francisco to be a lead marketing lawyer for five years. I then returned to the East Coast to support the Engineering & Technology Services division. In a single year I went on to negotiate contracts that placed IBM microprocessors into the PlayStation, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii. I was also the chief compliance officer for IBM’s growth markets in Shanghai—which was another very interesting role.
What do you find most rewarding about your current role?
I’m the managing attorney for the IP law department and I work with a lot of the younger attorneys to build their skills. I find positions that will help them shine and play to their talents. I really find it rewarding to encourage and motivate someone so they can find their calling and fall in love with their career.
Was there a class that had an impact on your career?
I still remember the negotiation and mediation class that was taught by former dean Nancy Rogers. At that time, I didn’t realize just how particularly important and relevant it would be to my career. Corporate lawyers and really, all lawyers, must be able to negotiate and find resolutions for complex situations and issues. I remember thinking, “I’m not going to be a litigator, I probably won’t get a chance to really use this.” I was completely wrong. That course was tremendously valuable and the lessons I learned helped me throughout my career.
What advice would you give to students about how to create their own meaningful career path?
Part of it is understanding what you like to do and what you’re good at. Throughout my career, I pursued opportunities that had two things: 1. Something that people didn’t want to do. The stuff that everyone wants to do can often make it harder for you to stand out. 2.Play to your strengths. It’s always a good thing to keep improving and finding opportunities that give you something to build on. If you find an opportunity that’s somewhere in your wheelhouse, go for it!