The Women to Watch Series was established by the Women in IP Committee as an avenue to recognize women within the AIPLA community for excellence and accomplishments. Through a peer-nomination process, the Women to Watch Series strives to honor women who have created their own paths, who lead through strong examples, and who are achieving successes as a result of their choices and leadership, but who may not be widely known in the AIPLA community.
We are pleased to introduce Tonya Combs, in her own words:
Years working in IP: 14+ years.
Years with current organization: 17+ years
Current location: Indianapolis, In.
Current role: Vice-President and Deputy General Patent Counsel
What I do:I counsel senior leaders at Eli Lilly and Company on IP strategy. I also have the good fortune to lead a group of incredibly talented and experienced patent attorneys responsible for global patent procurement (drafting and prosecuting), maintenance, and aspects of enforcement for Lilly. In addition, we assess the potential relevance of third party patents to determine their potential impact on Lilly’s development efforts and value in business due diligence.
Previous roles: I started at Lilly as a chemical engineer in research and development where I had responsibility for optimizing processes for scale up production of clinical trial material. I have had a number of positions in the law division, including roles in patent preparation and prosecution, patent litigation, brand attorney, trade secret protection and enforcement, general counsel for our oncology business, and others.
Years and involvement with AIPLA: I have been involved in AIPLA in a variety of ways since 2012. I previously participated on the Model Patent Jury Instructions Subcommittee (2015), and am currently a member of the Patent Law Committee, among others.
Q: What was the best professional decision you ever made?
A: The best professional decision I ever made was applying to law school. It opened an exciting new career path that marries scientific interest with cutting edge innovation.
Q: What was the worst professional decision you ever made?
A: Underestimating my readiness to take on a new assignment. Transitioning to a new role or area of law is its own skill set, and one that cannot be developed without experience.
Q: What would you consider your greatest professional achievement so far?
A: I have had the opportunity to work on many complex and interesting projects, litigation, oppositions, etc. The accomplishments I look back on most fondly are those enabling innovative new medicine to help patients, and those facilitating the development and growth of other practitioners.
Q: In your opinion, what could women be doing better to advance their careers?
A: Don’t underestimate yourself; your colleagues aren’t! Knowledge gaps equal growth opportunities. How fortunate that we endeavor to succeed in a career that allows us to learn constantly. Let’s embrace that and lean forward into the next opportunity.
Q: What is the best advice you have received?
A: We’re shooting for excellence, not perfection. This advice helps me keep prioritization top of mind and to beware the point of diminishing returns.
More about Tonya:
If they bottled my personality, the label would read:
Contains: determination and realistic optimism. Caution: contents turn gritty and persevere under pressure.
Something I said I’d never do, but did anyway:
I was always interested in a variety of science-focused careers, but never envisioned a career practicing law.
One thing people are surprised to find out about me:
I first became interested in patent law after being named the sole inventor on a patent application.