The VP of Legal at UL (Underwriters Laboratory), Paul Brown, recently came to speak as part of the MSL Speaker Series. UL is a company that deals with safety issues; the company performs safety analyses of new technologies, most notably the public adoption of electricity and the drafting of safety standards for electrical components and devices. The UL certification is one of the most recognized certifications of consumer product safety in the world.
In describing UL, Paul called it an “IP company,” noting that much of its value is in copyrights (largely pertaining to the development of standards), trademarks, patents, and trade secrets. Paul noted that the core of the company is the value of its unique marks and that protecting the UL brand is the key to success of the company. He noted that the UL mark is often counterfeited because its value is so important to the success of a product, and that it is a cross-functional effort to protect it. Paul said that UL is a global company, aiming to be a one-stop shop for certification around the world.
Understanding that the MSL is focused on cross-disciplinary thinking, Paul discussed how the various departments at UL interact for the benefit of the company. UL really encourages cross-functional efforts, and Paul discussed how intertwined many of the functions at UL are (such as marketing, standards, engineering, legal, HR, finance, commercial, IT, information security, etc.). He said that it is super important for employees to understand what is going on in departments other than their own, because the functions have so much interplay. There is also an important public/private collaboration between UL and government/regulatory agencies.
To demonstrate the interplay between functions and also the public/private activity, Paul gave us a few examples. For one, he talked about UL brand protection. He said that the UL employees work with customs officials on the UL mark; enforcement of the marks requires various departments to work together – legal marketing, global security, engineering, market surveillance and others.
Another example he gave was hover boards, and the problems with their lithium ion batteries. The US Consumer Safety Protection banned them and said they had to be certified to UL standards. UL wrote a standard and launched a certification program. Many functions of the company had to come together to make that happen.
Another example was UL’s supply chain management and sustainability business division. Lots of businesses/products make claims about being “green” or use images meant to convey some vague earth/environmental claim, without really being certified as green. The environmental group at UL developed a standard for this; the marketing, legal, and regulatory teams were also involved.
Paul offered the following advice to students at the end of his talk:
- He advised that students pay attention to contracts. He said that a lot of professionals shy away from contracts rather than delving in, but that this is a place where MSL training might give students a competitive advantage.
- Paul reminded us that networking is very important, and suggested that MSL students join relevant professional associations. He said that the IP world is small and it is important to get to know professional colleagues.
- Finally, he said that professionals should welcome opportunities to interact with lawyers; no need to be afraid!