When patent agent Kinza Hecht, our NJMOMpreneur of the week, became a mom, her (mostly male) colleagues didn’t understand the juggle of working motherhood or tending to the needs of a sick kiddo. Noticing the unnecessarily rigid workplace norms in her field, she set out to create her own more flexible, and in-turn, family-friendly firm, where she could still help tech giants like Google and AT&T secure patents for their inventions. Her business Hard IP was born, and her impressive work continues, now on her terms, in between playing with her two kids. We sat down with the South Orange mama to talk about acing the patent bar (less than half the people who take it pass), what sleep training her babies taught her about resilience, and her recent virtual tasting experience with a local chocolate sommelier (yes, this is a thing).
featured image via Ron Contarsy
What exactly is a patent agent, and how did you become one?
A patent agent assists clients, including individual inventors or corporations, to file and prosecute a patent application. Prosecuting is a term that essentially means going through the back-and-forth with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to ensure that a patent is granted. As a first step, an inventor may want to determine whether his/her invention is patentable, which is another thing that patent agents can assist with. Patent agents must be registered to practice before the USPTO, which requires passing the patent bar exam. The exam consistently has a below 50% pass rate and is considered more difficult than state bar exams. You must have a technical background to qualify to take the exam. My undergraduate degree is in Electrical Engineering, and I completed a Master’s coursework in the same field so that I could sit for the patent bar. I passed the exam on the first try.
What led you to create your own patent firm?
After becoming a mother, I refused to choose between giving up my career to focus on my children or give up time with my kids to focus on my career. Instead, I wanted to do both, even though I did not know any other women in patent law who were able to pull it off. In my experience, most law firms (and companies) weren’t flexible enough to realistically accommodate working mothers. That’s why I chose to start my firm, Hard IP.
Before starting my firm, it was difficult for me to plan something as simple as a doctor’s office visit when my son was sick. I felt guilty when I left work early or in the middle of the day. Being in the office for face time, which most firms require, felt utterly unnecessary. I knew there had to be a better way. The idea of being tethered to my office for the rest of my career was intolerable, mainly because all the tools I ever needed were on my laptop—I could work from anywhere. I realized that without the need for physical office space, I could drastically reduce overhead and pass on that savings to clients. Hard IP launched as a “virtual” firm with extremely competitive hourly rates and flexible fee arrangements.
What is it about this type of work you love most?
I am passionate about patent law, and I enjoy every aspect of my career. I love working with inventors and learning about new technology. I have worked with some of the most well-known companies in the world to secure patent rights, including Google, AT&T, RedHat, Siemens, Alcatel-Lucent, and Technicolor. It brings me joy to write patent applications involving cutting-edge technology and assist my clients in obtaining patent-pending status. The best part of my job is when I finally call clients to tell them that their application has been allowed—there is nothing better than doing the “happy dance” when a patent is granted.
How has your motherhood journey played a role in your career path?
I’ve learned to prioritize the things that are the most important to me. There is never enough time in the day, and there are many distractions. My clients are a priority to me, but my children come first. I make sure that I have the support I need to ensure that I can always assist my clients. I also have a new appreciation for multitasking—keeping my eye on my son playing while completing a brief is not atypical.
Going back, I realized I learned a lot during the newborn stage. After dealing with sleep training babies, I now know what it means to have a real “all-nighter” (so different from pulling one at work or college). I feel like I can tackle almost any challenge thrown at me. Motherhood has also taught me how to be more resilient, increased my patience and perseverance, and helped build my stamina.
Can you share some of your favorite local businesses and what you love about them?
I love out-of-the-box businesses that buck the trend. Leroy Huggins from Clifton owns a fitness franchise called GymGuyz. He essentially brings the gym to you, which is extremely convenient and a huge time saver. I recently discovered Nadine Kerstan of Barometer Chocolate in South Orange, NJ, is a chocolate sommelier who sells hand-picked gourmet chocolate and provides virtual chocolate tasting sessions. My team did a virtual chocolate tasting with her, and it was a delicious experience that was very different from anything I’ve tried. I’m also a big fan of local delivery: Mark McClean of Remarkable Cuisine in Essex County delivers fresh, sustainable, organic meals each week. He is a personal chef to famous athletes. Sonny’s Indian Kitchen in Chatham delivers Indian food and my entire family, including the kids, love it. Another favorite is Lunchbox on Main in Chatham, which delivers healthy lunches every week.
What advice do you have for other NJMOMpreneurs?
You can’t accomplish anything if you don’t try—you must be willing to take a risk, but the rewards can be much higher (though it may take some time). It is essential to have support from your family and friends, but you should always do what you feel is right in your heart and follow your intuition. Seek out other mompreneurs and try to learn from them by finding out about their journey. Also, don’t believe the naysayers—I was told by many senior lawyers that I could not practice patent law on my own. Many of my former colleagues (mostly men) could not understand my career goals or the challenges I faced as a working mom. It took me a long time to find mentors to help guide me. I am thankful to have finally found some, and I am paying it forward by mentoring others. I hope to set an example for other strong women, and even my daughter, who I hope will one day be a mompreneur as well.