Profile: Christian Mammen
Dr Christian E Mammen has represented Silicon Valley, global technology and life sciences clients in high-stakes patent and intellectual property litigation. He has also held visiting faculty positions at UC Hastings, Berkeley, Stanford and Oxford. He has provided pro bono legal services for California Lawyers for the Arts, FairVote, KIND and Project Homeless Connect. In 2015 he co-founded Oxford Entrepreneurs of the Bay Area, now Oxford Entrepreneurs Network (OxEN). Chris received his JD, magna cum laude, from Cornell Law School. His Oxford DPhil thesis was published as a book titled, Using Legislative History in American Statutory Interpretation.
What brought you to Univ?
As an undergraduate philosophy student, and then as a law student at Cornell, I was drawn to issues of legal philosophy. Oxford was the best place in the world to pursue a third degree focusing on jurisprudence. Univ, in particular, was at the centre, with John Finnis and Ronald Dworkin both active in College.
What do you remember about your first week at Univ?
When I first arrived at Univ, fresh off the bus from Heathrow, I was greeted by Cecile Fabre, who had arrived to start her DPhil perhaps a day before I did. As she showed me the convoluted route to my room in 90 High Street, I recall wondering what I had gotten myself into! Very quickly, however, I settled in with a diverse and brilliant group of friends in the WCR. Incidentally, Cecile has not strayed far – she is now a Senior Research Fellow over the road at All Souls.
What are your most treasured memories of Univ?
Dinner parties with friends, rowing for Univ in a Gents’ VIII for Summer Eights with Pimms held high as we rowed past the boathouses.
What do you miss most about Univ?
I miss the intensity. College life during term-time was a drinking-from-a-fire-hose deluge of academic, social, intellectual, artistic engagement.
What makes Univ unique?
I can’t explain it, but if you fill a room with Univ members, no matter where in the world, and no matter how long since they left College, you are certain to experience a warm, welcoming community.
What was the highlight of your tenure as President of the WCR?
Well, it’s very tempting to point to President Bill Clinton’s visit to Univ in 1994 when he received an honorary doctorate from the University. But I’d rather point to a substantive accomplishment by WCR members during my time as WCR president.
We wrote and adopted the first written constitution for the WCR. I remember spending hours debating the mechanism by which the new constitution would be adopted and recognized – there was obviously nothing in the old, unwritten constitution concerning modification or adoption of a new constitution, and several students were concerned with how you could legitimately “bootstrap” the new constitution by having it provide its own rules for adoption. I believe one of the WCR members involved in those debates went on to become a constitutional law scholar.
Were there any Univ characters who made a lasting impression on you?
There are too many stories, most of which you won’t get out of me until the third glass of port! Seriously, though, Dr Leslie Mitchell, who was Dean of Graduates during my time at Univ, has remained a good friend. I’m still coming across the sources of literary references that he quietly dropped 25 years ago.
Of which professional achievements are you most proud, and why?
The most meaningful contributions are the ones where we have an opportunity to make a difference for someone else. During the arc of my career, I’ve been fortunate to have a number of opportunities to do this – for both paying clients and pro bono clients as well. Similarly, the kinds of opportunities and network we have created with the Oxford Entrepreneurs Network has made a big difference for a number of Oxford-affiliated startup founders.
What inspired you to launch the Oxford Entrepreneurs Network?
It was really the brainchild of several of us – Gauthier Philippart and Richard Yonge deserve much of the credit. We started with two observations and a hypothesis: that there were a lot of Oxonians in the San Francisco Bay Area who were involved in entrepreneurial activities, that the sense of community among Oxford alumni provides a special bond, and that a group dedicated to entrepreneurship among Oxonians would fill an unmet need.
Are there particular individuals who have benefitted from the network whose stories you have found particularly inspiring?
There are so many incredibly impressive startups founded by Oxonians – it’s hard to know where to start! Before the COVID-19 pandemic, each chapter would have a meeting about once a month and typically two founders would present their startups, followed by questions – and advice – from the audience. Just a sampling of the kinds of companies we’ve heard about: an app to teach financial literacy using developmental psychology principles, desktop robotics, artificial intelligence-driven analysis of radiology images, reforestation using drones. In fact, there have been so many inspiring startups that there is now an angel investment fund. It is formally separate from OxEN, but provides a way for interested members of the community to provide early-stage investments in these startups. To date, several iterations of the fund have supported over a dozen Oxford-related companies with another 25-30 in the pipeline.
What advice would you give to any Univ students with entrepreneurial ambitions?
Build your network. Find mentors. Ask for – and graciously receive – their wisdom. Finally, as an intellectual property lawyer, I would be remiss if I didn’t add, “Protect your IP!”
What is your favourite part of the College?
The garden beside the library. It provided a quiet, informal retreat that was always a remarkable contrast from the intensity of the High Street just a few feet away.
What do you find most inspiring about the Univ North development?
An opportunity like this comes along less frequently (perhaps much less frequently) than once-per-generation. For Univ North, the College has had the vision to grow beyond the main site, the imagination to conceive of a comprehensive plan to serve students’ 21st century needs, and the focus to bring the plan to fruition.
Why do you support Univ, and why would you encourage others to do the same?
My time at Univ was transformative. Personal friendships, professional opportunities, and a connection to the Univ community have all been of great value to me. I am honoured to be able to give back to the College.
Describe Univ in three words
Best. Oxford. College.
Find out more: oxfordentrepreneurs.net
This feature was adapted from one first published in Issue 13 of The Martlet; read the full magazine here or explore our back catalogue of Martlets below:
Published: 7 June 2021