Who is the face behind managing and protecting intellectual property rights of Orange? Meet Debbie Marks, General Counsel for Global Brand Affairs at Orange and participant in the 3rd edition of our Women Talent Pool programme, who has worked in this company for more than fifteen years.
What makes the Orange group so attractive? Why does Debbie prefer working as an in-house lawyer? What would she be if not a lawyer? Find the answers in our interview!
Could you tell us a little about your background?
I studied law at University and Law School in London and I started my career with a City Law firm, specialising in intellectual property and commercial litigation, where I worked mainly for brand and patent owners, and advertising and marketing clients.
As I always saw my future as an in-house counsel, I joined Orange when the opportunity arose, which was not long after France Télécom acquired Orange.
How would you describe your work as an in-house counsel and how is it different from working as a private lawyer?
Both in-house counsel and private practice lawyers focus on giving sensible, commercial legal advice. However, as an in-house lawyer, your advice and decisions are rarely based just on legal considerations, but are based on a combination of legal expertise and business and commercial judgment.
As an in-house lawyer, in order to be able to advise the business effectively, you need to learn as much as you can about the business in which you work, not just in terms of its commercial and operational activity, but also any industry-specific concepts and language. For example, for my role, it is important to understand the work of other experts in the brand, marketing, M&A, finance and tax departments.
‘As an in-house lawyer, in order to be able to advise the business effectively, you need to learn as much as you can about the business in which you work – both its commercial and operational activity, and industry-specific concepts and language.’
Also, as an in-house lawyer, you are part of the business and not just an advisor to the business, which, I believe, makes you more personally invested in its continued success.
As General Counsel for Global Brand Affairs for one of the leading multinational telecommunications corporations, what are the specific issues you have to deal with and the challenges you have to address?
My role involves the legal protection and licensing of the Orange brand. We have an extensive global trademark and domain name portfolio, so managing, protecting and defending those intellectual property rights represents a significant part of our work. As Orange expands into new business areas and new territories, our department needs to make sure that it has all the necessary rights in place. We are responsible for the legal framework for international brand licensing activity and support the Global Brand team with re-branding projects. In the last two years, we have had Orange brand launches in Egypt, Belgium, Morocco, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and last year, Orange Bank was launched in France.
I think that the biggest challenge that we face in brand protection is the huge expansion in the use of social media and apps in recent years, which brings exciting opportunities for brands to communicate and engage with their customers, but also carries risks for organisations and brands, in the form of new and different types of brand infringements, such as Twitter handles, App infringements and increased phishing and cyber-attacks.
You have joined Orange more than 15 years ago, while many people were and are still knocking on the company’s door. What makes it so attractive and how does it foster motivation and purpose and among its workforce?
I think that Orange’s appeal lies in the fact that the telecommunications sector is such a fast-moving industry and Orange has been in the forefront of many of these developments, as well as extending into new business activities, such as healthcare, mobile banking, cloud services and cybersecurity.
Orange also supports employee development and mobility, allowing people, including myself, to find and take on new challenges, while staying within the Group. For me, this has meant that I am also now a member of the UK Management Team, I have taken responsibility for UK corporate legal affairs and I am the UK Compliance Officer (op.ed. In 2014, Debbie received an Award for Compliance Officer of the Year. )
'Orange has been at the forefront of many of these developments and has extended into new business activities, such as healthcare, mobile banking, cloud services and cybersecurity.'
You have participated in our 3rd edition of WIL’s Women Talent Pool Programme, which has recently ended. What are your takeaways and in what way it has benefited you?
I have really enjoyed being part of the programme, and meeting women from different companies and industries, as well as participants from Orange who work in different lines of businesses and different countries, whom I had not met before.
For me, a key takeaway is the importance of continuing to build and develop professional networks and relationships – when you are busy with work, it is easy to miss opportunities to do this. Another takeaway is how valuable it is to have the benefit of mentoring and support, not just in the early stages of a career, but at every stage.
'It is extremely valuable to have the opportunity of mentoring and support, not just in the early stages of a career, but at every stage.'
As a part of the programme, I attended the EU Breakfast Debate with Michel Barnier, EU Chief Negotiator for Brexit. Events like this one are hugely beneficial because they provide a valuable forum for discussions of issues, like Brexit, which has business, political and personal implications for many of us.
If not a lawyer, what would you be?
(Laughter) That is not an easy question to answer, having been a lawyer for so long. As I have always loved reading, I would probably have enjoyed working in the publishing industry.