Elaine Bergenthuin

Patent attorney, De Beer Attorneys

If you are going to defend the rights of global technology companies to claim a patent, or fight cases of intellectual property theft, you need a deep understanding of the underlying technologies. That’s why patent attorney Elaine Bergenthuin earned a degree in electrical engineering first, giving her a thorough grounding in this highly specialised field. Bergenthuin (34) is the founder and managing partner of De Beer Attorneys, a company focusing on intellectual property (IP) law including patents, trademarks, copyright and design rights. Although there are some well-established legal firms in this field, Bergenthuin formed her own company in 2014.

“I wanted to be more independent and do things my way, and I saw a gap and felt the market was right for a younger person to come in,” she says. She began with an office in Johannesburg, then opened a second branch in Cape Town. The third step will probably be an office in Mauritius, which is positioning itself as a technology hub and a gateway to Africa for international companies. De Beer is still small with only five employees, but she is actively recruiting — and her ambitions are big.

“Our goal is to be the most highly respected intellectual property law firm in South Africa. It’s about the quality of service.” She’s winning plenty of business from local players in the information technology and telecommunications sectors, and from overseas companies that want to protect their patents and trademarks in South Africa, including large multinationals such as Samsung and Hewlett-Packard. Her degree in electrical engineering at Pretoria University saw her gain specific expertise in biochemicals and technology. She also holds a law degree from Unisa and a postgraduate Certificate in Intellectual Property Law from the University of London.

When she returned to South Africa she worked for law firms in Johannesburg, then joined a technology company as its legal consultant. She is now recognised as an expert in intellectual property law in South Africa and regularly speaks at local and international conferences. She was also a finalist in the Law Africa Digest Awards for the Female Managing Partner of the Year in 2016.

— Lesley Stones

Twitter: @beer_ip