Intellectual property law firm Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner has named Erika Harmon Arner as its managing partner, effective July 1.
She succeeds Anand Sharma, who now becomes chair of the Washington-founded firm, which has 11 offices. Arner will handle day-to-day management of the firm and work with Sharma, who takes the place of former chair Mark Sweet, according to Finnegan.
Arner has led the firm’s electrical and computer technology practice group and before that was the leader of the patent office practice, according to Finnegan. She served on the firm’s management committee.
She joins the ranks of the few women who are either Big Law chairs or managing partners, such as Jami Wintz McKeon, chair of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, and Kim Koopersmith, chair of Akin Gump. The percentage of women partners has been growing slowly at U.S. firms, hitting 25.1% in 2020.
Arner’s legal practice has been focused on the Patent Trial and Appeals Board, where she represented patent owners and petitioners in more than 200 trials. An authority on patent eligibility, she plans to continue her practice during her time as managing partner.
The move “reflects Finnegan’s tradition of rotating firm leadership positions periodically to ensure continuity,” the firm said in a statement. The change allows firm leaders “balance their management duties and client responsibilities most effectively,” the statement said.
Arner said in a statement that her elevation means that “Finnegan doesn’t just say we’re diverse; diversity is woven into the firm’s culture.”
Earlier this year, the firm started a program called IP University to help diversify the ranks of IP lawyers by introducing undergraduate and graduate students to possible careers in intellectual property law.
Currently fewer than 22% of patent attorneys and agents registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are women, according to a 2020 study by law firm Harrity & Harrity, and less than 2% of all IP attorneys are Black, according to the American Intellectual Property Association.