Patent Portent

Giovanna Fessenden’s family history of inventing presaged her career in IP law

Published in 2020 Massachusetts Super Lawyers Magazine

In the late 1990s, Giovanna Fessenden was working in Geneva, Switzerland, using her bachelor’s degree in computer science to do web-based programming. As she saw the World Wide Web exploding in popularity, Fessenden knew what her next step would be. “I decided I wanted to take my love for technology to the next level, and help protect technology in the space of the internet,” she says. 

During her 18-year career in intellectual property law at Hamilton, Brook, Smith & Reynolds in Concord, Fessenden has been able to ride “a great wave of new innovation” in the technology space, helping clients navigate patents, trademarks, copyright, licensing and more to protect their work.  

When Fessenden started out in 2002, she focused on innovations like search engine algorithms, geofencing and encryption, as well as fantasy sports technology. Today, she’s helping clients use the blockchain for everything from cryptocurrency and hosting electronic wallets to certifying fair practices in their supply chains. 

Fessenden first started working with blockchain clients in 2014 and was quickly impressed by the technology’s endless applications. “It felt like the experience again with the internet revolution,” she says. 

Technology innovations are part of Fessenden’s DNA. Her great-grandfather George R. Fessenden Jr., a botanist and conservationist, developed and patented a process of preserving animal and plant specimens in clear plastic, which was quickly adopted by the Department of Agriculture. Some of his specimens are now part of the Smithsonian, and Fessenden has a few herself—a rose and a crab encased in plastic—as pieces of family history.

Once she began working with electrical engineers and scientists, she discovered she had another tech-savvy relative: Reginald Fessenden. “I used to get a lot of ‘Are you related to Reginald Fessenden?’ He’s the inventor of the radio—as we use it today,” she says. 

While Guglielmo Marconi is commonly given credit for inventing the device, Reginald Fessenden developed hundreds of patents for pioneering radio technologies, including the first two-way radio transmissions and the ability to send human speech through radio waves. 

“As a little kid we talked about Reginald in my family,” she says, “but I didn’t realize he was so well-known in the electrical engineering field. I was very honored that people would recognize my last name and think about Reginald. I didn’t know anyone else would really be thinking about him.”

Her latest brush with innovation came in 2018, when Fessenden got involved in esports through her brother, Jace Hall, who has served as CEO of several gaming enterprises, including Echo Fox, and co-chaired the H1Z1 Pro League. After attending several tournaments, she was hooked. “I became even more immersed in the esports community, and passionate about the emerging esports revolution,” she says. “I also developed several long-term client relationships with esports companies.”

In 2019, competitive gaming leagues involving titles such as Counter-Strike and League of Legends drew more than 450 million viewers and are expected to pass $1 billion in revenue in 2020. Fessenden covers all aspects of technology in the gaming and esports world, including payment systems, digital and media rights, livestreaming and broadcast systems, and managing players’ electronic assets, such as weapons, skins, and other in-game purchases. 

But as esports has exploded in popularity, the industry has also run up against gambling regulations in many states. “In Massachusetts, if you have a gaming tournament and there’s a reward, that’s considered sports gambling,” Fessenden says. “[These laws] are preventing investment, which ultimately chills technological progress in this space.”

According to a 2018-2019 study by the NPD Group,  211.2 million Americans play video games, about 67% of the population. “It’s a market that isn’t able to come to fruition because the laws aren’t keeping up,” she says.

Fessenden has spoken on these issues at MIT and met with members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission about changing regulations. Gov. Charlie Baker has supported a bill to legalize sports betting, which is currently before the Massachusetts Legislature. 

“We’re one of the biggest academic institutional states. We have a lot of young people; we have a lot of innovation, a lot of talent here,” she says. “I think it would be a good time to activate some of those brilliant minds and give them the freedom … to see what they could do with this.” 

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