3D Printing Spotlight On: Kathryn Hurley, General Counsel, MakerBot

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No industry is without its own legal challenges, and 3D printing presents plenty, especially related to intellectual property and copyright issues. It’s important for any 3D printing company to have legal counsel for the times when incidents do arise. As one of the biggest, most prominent companies in the 3D printing industry, MakerBot has seen its share of legal issues, but General Counsel Kathryn Hurley is there to make sure that the company can deal with any problems that come up.

Hurley was introduced to 3D printing by way of the legal field, and even though her position at MakerBot keeps her extremely busy, she still finds time to contribute to the greater community. We were given the opportunity to speak to Hurley recently for the latest installment in our Spotlight on Women series, as we see women working at the fore of several major companies’ legal efforts in the 3D printing world.

Tell us about yourself, your history and current work. 

“I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I graduated from Howard University and Georgetown Law. In between college and law school, I taught middle school Spanish and reading, and coached girls basketball in Atlanta as a Corps Member for Teach for America. Today I am the General Counsel at MakerBot, a globally recognized 3D printing company. It is my role to oversee all of the legal and quasi-legal matters affecting the company and there is never a dull moment! Outside of MakerBot, I serve as the Board Chair of Legacy College Preparatory Charter School opening in the South Bronx this month and I am co-founder of a civic tech mobile app. In my spare time, I enjoy running races and tinkering with new technology.”

What drew you to working in the 3D printing industry?

“When I joined MakerBot, my view was that by working in this disruptive industry at such an early stage, I could acquire certain knowledge, skill-sets and professional acumen that would make me a valuable and strategic partner to a business. The desktop consumer 3D printing market was relatively new back then, and the few companies in the space were small start-ups, including MakerBot. When I first saw a 3D printer building an object, I was blown away at the sorcery. I actually used that word to describe it. The capabilities seemed endless and that was really exciting – still is. The novelty has not worn off. We have a global ecosystem comprised of hardware and software development (including IP and supply chain matters), sales, marketing, customer service, and compliance – and I grapple with it all! And it doesn’t hurt that the engineers, makers, and educators in the 3D printing community are some of the most creative people in tech. I am very fortunate to be able to balance my day-to-day legal work with their type of energy.”

What are some of the unique challenges 3D printing presents from a legal standpoint?

“Many of the legal challenges in the 3D printing ecosystem are actually applicable to other industries. I would say our top three challenges are ownership, licensing, and liability – each distinctly and collectively. The legal team at MakerBot regularly fields questions concerning these topics and often times there is no precedent in the field of 3D printing. However, we are customer-focused and therefore spend the time necessary to evaluate risk and create solutions that benefit our 3D printing community.”

What has been your greatest professional challenge during your time at MakerBot?

“The greatest professional challenge at MakerBot is the one that is most constant, which is the balancing act of the interests of MakerBot’s inspirational user community against the legitimate corporate responsibilities of MakerBot, which are of course, of utmost importance to me as its legal counsel and corporate gatekeeper.”

As a woman in a prominent position in the 3D printing industry, do you feel that your experience has been different than that of a man in a similar position?

“My experience probably has been different than that of a man in a similar position but not necessarily in a way that has impacted my ability to do my work and enjoy the experience. In this customer-focused and fast-paced industry, I feel that my colleagues are interested in my reliability and the quality of my work product more than anything else.”

What do you feel are the biggest obstacles to diversity in the 3D printing industry, as well as the legal field?

“I’ll start by saying that I believe we are often having an incomplete conversation. We give the word diversity plenty of lip service, starting off with the ‘who’, ‘what’, and ‘when’, but then fail to really delve further into the ‘why’ or ‘how’. It is difficult to unpack the obstacles that prevent a workplace from looking and feeling diverse when we discuss diversity in a vacuum. Not all diverse backgrounds are marginalized the same way and we have to be careful not to conflate too many issues at once. We should identify the discrete issues that have led to a lack of diversity, discuss them separately and specifically, design measurable actions on each, and frame those actions to the appropriate stakeholders as opportunities. There will be hard conversations but setting clear, measurable, and valuable outcomes is something that most people can appreciate! Meaningful change in this demographic requires individual and collective ownership over real action items. The good news is that there are some really phenomenal organizations out there already taking action and we can all support these organizations in our own respective capacities.”

What advice would you give to a woman looking to pursue a career in a technological or legal field?

“You can do anything. Nothing about my career path so far has been typical and I am often outside of my comfort zone. When you’re in pursuit of any professional opportunity, especially in 2017, it is really important to be creative in your approach, open-minded, humble, and always, always, always prepared.”

Legal issues are intimidating to deal with, no matter what industry you’re in, but it helps to have someone on staff who is well-versed in the law and can guide a company toward the best possible outcome, even in challenging cases. MakerBot may have faced legal challenges in the past, and like any large company, it will face more in the future, but it’s certainly in good hands with Kathryn Hurley.

Share your thoughts in the Kathryn Hurley forum at 3DPB.com.

If you are interested in sharing your story, or know a woman we should get in touch with for this new series, please reach out any time. Send us an email or connect on Twitter. We’re looking forward to sharing more stories about women in 3D printing. Find all the features in this series here.
We are also featuring educators focusing on training and teaching 3D printing skills; see all these features here.

[Photos courtesy of Kathryn Hurley]


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