Alex Long closes one eye and lifts his right hand into the air, separating his thumb and index finger by a half-inch and looking through the gap with his open eye. “I knew an awful lot about that much,” he says about that tiny space. Long is talking about the six years he spent at MIT as an undergraduate and graduate student in mechanical engineering. Today, he works at GE Aviation—but not in the role one might expect.
After Long began pondering the limited scope of his growing expertise as a scientist and engineer, a strange series of events occurred. One of his peers—a PhD candidate in nuclear engineering—left MIT for a career on Wall Street. Inspired, Long started reading books on economics, business, and current events. The country was still struggling with a recession. Long narrowly avoided a costly lab mishap while conducting his master’s thesis experiment. Although the love for physics and engineering he discovered at the prodding of a high school teacher and mentor never waned, the young extrovert grew frustrated by long sessions spent isolated in the lab. He started to wonder what life was like outside MIT’s doors.
Upon finishing his master’s degree, Long became a management consultant and spent three years working for firms including Andersen Consulting and Sapient. He learned about business and started rubbing elbows with leaders in various companies and industries. That’s when Long began to contemplate yet another career switch, taking him even further (so he thought) from the lab. “I’ve always loved science, and I couldn’t deny I had a desire to make an impact on the world,” he says. “I saw what people were doing in other industries and wanted to explore further how my background could help me to contribute.”
A Solid Foundation
One name has stayed with Alex Long throughout his career—Jackie Robinson. As a college student, Long received a four-year partial scholarship from the Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF). The organization, founded by the widow of the famed baseball player and civil rights pioneer, provides scholarships coupled with support and leadership development resources to minority students.
Completely coincidentally, GE sponsored Long’s scholarship from the JRF, which led him to a summer internship with the corporation. Many years before eventually joining GE Aviation in 2015 as chief IP counsel, Long supported engineers who were then working on the GE90 turbofan jet engine while he was a student intern from MIT.
Later, when Long’s career took him to San Diego, JRF leaders asked him to present at the coastal city’s Jackie Robinson Family YMCA. He served on that’s organizations board of directors for ten years, helping the YMCA fulfil its mission of helping people realize their fullest potential through the development of spirit, mind, and body.
Long decided to embrace all options. His interest in social justice led him to consider law school and to accept an invitation to a student-recruiting event at Chicago-Kent School of Law. That’s where a fateful conversation would alter the course of his professional life forever.
Long met Kimberly Moore—also an MIT alum, then a professor at Chicago-Kent, and now a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit—who gave him a primer on intellectual property law. “She explained that a good IP lawyer understands technology, translates technical language in a persuasive way for the judge and the jury, and understands the impact of that technology on business and industry,” Long says. As Moore described the subject matter and needed skills, Long realized he might be a perfect fit for the job. Months later, he enrolled at Northwestern University’s school of law.
Long started his legal career at Cooley LLP and later spent a decade at Latham & Watkins, where he made equity partner in 2011. In 2015, a former colleague persuaded Long to consider a job as GE Aviation’s top IP lawyer. That eventually turned into an offer Long couldn’t refuse. The lawyer who once wanted to become a rocket scientist would be working alongside them.
Long made the leap in-house in 2015 and hasn’t looked back. “Going in-house with GE Aviation has given me the chance to help a company that creates great products that change the world,” Long explains. “I love the challenge and the chance to make an impact.” Long’s role at GE Aviation is a strategic one in which he can apply his full expertise and experience accumulated over his various career roles. Long contrasts firm life with his in-house position by comparing it to the world of professional sports. At the firms, he was like a professional athlete focused on the “sport” of IP litigation, constantly training himself and preparing to win for his clients on the playing field. At GE, he sits up in the owner’s box, acting like a general manager who is more concerned about the full season than winning just one game. He looks at trends and big-picture issues to draft the playbook and recruit and cultivate the right players.
Perhaps most importantly, Long fits well into GE Aviation’s culture of innovation. Many of the organization’s senior leaders, including CEO David Joyce, are engineers. The company makes products and provides services that are steeped in sophisticated technologies. And Long’s background in engineering, business, and law—and his aptitude for technology—help him talk the talk with GE’s scientists and gather the information his team needs to manage risk while protecting the company’s IP assets.
“I get paid to learn,” Long says. “There’s nothing better for someone who loves science and technology.”
In his first year, Long helped champion a shift in the culture at GE Aviation by raising awareness of the massive importance of intellectual property matters in the modern, highly competitive marketplace. “IP is now just part of how we do business,” Long explains. “There are tremendous benefits to be realized when a company unlocks the full potential of its IP portfolio, and GE Aviation is now thinking about that in new ways.” IP is playing an increasingly important role in business. Companies such as GE, which invest billions of dollars in research and development, must not only protect the value of that investment, but they also must unlock new ways to leverage their intellectual assets to expand market opportunities and generate new channels for revenues.
While traditional lawyers may handle negotiations, protect assets, and manage risk, Long’s unique background gives him the ability to create value at GE Aviation. That’s what he loves about his job. “I work for a company that’s almost 125 years old, but it feels like a start-up,” Long explains. “I get to try new ideas and empower others to take managed risks as we discover great things together. I’m having fun.”
“Weil is honored to work with Alex Long and the team at GE Aviation. We value our relationship with General Electric, and are excited to work with them as they continue their long history of innovation in the aviation industry.” –Brian Ferguson, partner and cochair of patent litigation at Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP