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#UofTGrad17: Three things you should know about honorary grad Catherine Lacavera

Catherine Lacavera, Google's head of IP and patent litigation, receives an honorary degree from the University of Toronto (photo by Lisa Sakulensky)

Catherine Lacavera is Google’s director of IP and litigation.

Today, Lacavera receives a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa from the University of Toronto for her excellence in the professions and as “a globally recognized leader in the field of intellectual property law.” She is among 16 people being recognized by the University of Toronto with honorary degrees in 2017.

U of T News asked each of the honorary graduates to share an iconic Canadian moment – a feeling or experience they wish each of their fellow graduates could share. Below, are three things you should know about Lacavera, including the unconventional path she took at U of T to becoming a lawyer – one she says made all the difference – and her Canadian moment.

Defending 1,000 patent claims globally:

As Google’s head of IP and litigation, Lacavera has played a key role in helping to shape and advance intellectual property law globally, ensure the continued availability of a free and open Internet, user-generated content platforms, content streaming and other innovative technologies developed by Google and its partners.

That included defending the Internet giant’s high-profile YouTube business in copyright litigation with Viacom, and its widely-used mobile phone platform Android in patent litigation with Apple, Microsoft and Oracle. 

Lacavera has been touted as one of the 50 most influential people in the IP world by Managing Intellectual Property magazine and has been included in Fortune Magazine’s 40 under 40.

On her previous three degrees – all from U of T:

Lacavera always planned to be a lawyer – so, naturally, she studied computer engineering as a U of T undergrad.

“It seemed like an important skill to have,” she once told the website A Lawyer’s Life. “But I was always headed for law school, and I was always headed for patent law.” 

She went on to earn a law degree and an MBA from U of T, making her a triple graduate from the university. 

Lacavera’s engineering background paid off handsomely in 2005, when she decided to leave New York law firm White & Case LLP to become the head of Google’s IP and litigation team. 

Her education not only provided her with unique insights into the technology at the heart of Google’s patent litigation files, it also helped her design a unique system to handle a massive workload.

“My team is designed around what I call the ‘Model T Ford of patent litigation’ because we’ve created these processes for how every case is handled – from soup to nuts, every aspect of the litigation,” she told U of T Engineering a year ago. “That’s engineering. We’re handling fully one per cent of all patent litigation in the United States, and we wouldn’t be able to scale at that rate or to that level with such a small team without that type of process in place.”

Lacavera remains involved with U of T's Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, sitting on the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering Alumni Advisory Board and participating in The Entrepreneurship Hatchery accelerator.   

She once launched her own beauty business:

About seven years ago, and while still working at Google, Lacavera launched a blow-dry salon in San Francisco.

But she sold it as soon as it was up and running.

“It not only made me really, really appreciate my job, but it also exposed me to how to run a small business, all the challenges related to that and the legal practice areas like tax law, corporate law and employment law,” she told A Lawyer’s Life. “It was fascinating. I set it up and then sold it because, while the setup was fascinating, the continuing management of a hair salon was not.”

Her Canadian moment:

Lacavera grew up in a tiny town in southern Ontario, where she says she and her brother were free to roam the neighbourhood with their troop of friends from dawn until dinner.

“We played street hockey in the summer and ice hockey and figure skated in the winter on the rink my dad built in our backyard. We spent carefree days splashing in our blow up pool, swishing on our banana slide, running through the sprinkler, cruising the driveway in our Big Wheels, and swinging on our tire swing in our backyard willow tree.  Our big outings to Chippawa park for swimming lessons, Nani's for snacks, and Avondale for popsicles were safaris to the limits of our idyllic little world.  

“I regain those simple days every time I return for our family summers at my brother's cottage,” she says. “The glass surfaces of the crystal clear lakes, the majestic granite landscapes covered in pine trees, and the miles of blue skies and puffy white clouds forming shapes for the imagination.  It is like stepping into a Group of Seven painting.  Timeless days spent sitting on the dock in a Muskoka chair watching the sun rise, floating on a tube listening to the water lap against the rocks, swimming and seeing the bottom of the lake, water skiing, paddleboarding, outings to town for ice cream, and games of euchre with chocolate chip cookies and wild blueberries to sustain us.  Everyone says, ‘Hi,’ with a relaxed smile. The Canadian flag waves from every cottage as we boat by. If only the whole world were as peaceful and neighbourly as this little corner that to me represents Canada.”

Listen to her address to graduates