Harvey Dawson means business

A business lawyer first and foremost, Harman International’s vice president of global IP and licensing Alyssa Harvey Dawson has opened the eyes of the connected technologies giant to the wealth of intellectual assets at its disposal

“I don’t like to put myself – or anybody else – in a box,” declares Alyssa Harvey Dawson, when asked to elaborate on her role as vice president of global intellectual property and licensing with global tech titan Harman International. “My current job is to represent the company I work for in the area of IP, but I see it as much broader than that,” she continues. “Ultimately, I see it as helping Harman realise its potential by utilising its intellectual assets.”

This reluctance to be pigeonholed has been much in evidence throughout a career which began not in law or science – as for most of her contemporaries at multinational organisations – but in the fast-paced world of journalism. It was while writing for news and financial publisher Dow Jones that Harvey Dawson began contemplating her next professional move. “I always knew I wanted to get an advanced degree,” she explains, “and thought law would be interesting as I would be able to support businesses in the areas of technology and media – two sectors that I had already engaged with.”

Following qualification, Harvey Dawson cut her teeth at Latham & Watkins before heading west to the San Francisco Bay area to join Cooley. It was here, in the heartland of high-tech, that she began honing her skills in business and technology law and soon discovered a new area of interest: “Through this practice, I learned more about this particular set of assets – IP – and that these assets mattered to the companies I was representing.”

Business as usual

After half a decade in private practice, Harvey Dawson made the move in-house and spent a further 10 years on the West Coast working for digital pioneers such as Netflix and eBay before shipping back east in 2011 to join Harman International. Founded as Harmon Kardon in the early 1950s by two engineers with a passion for high-fidelity audio products, the company today is one of the world’s leading connected technologies innovators in the automotive, consumer and enterprise markets. Its structure has evolved over the years to encompass four distinct business units under a single executive management team headed up by CEO Dinesh Paliwal: connected car, lifestyle audio, professional solutions and connected services.

“Harman brought me in because I believe they saw that I was an all-round business lawyer focused on helping technology companies realise their potential and better utilise their assets, in particular IP assets,” recalls Harvey Dawson of her early days at the company. “As such, I was tasked with ascertaining whether we were using the assets we had in the best possible way. To do that, I had to first get clarity on exactly what we had and what of that was of value; and then decide whether we were doing what we should with those valuable assets.”

“Harman brought me in because I believe they saw that I was an all-round business lawyer focused on helping technology companies realise their potential and better utilise their assets, in particular IP assets”

To build up this picture, Harvey Dawson reached out to colleagues across Harman’s different business sectors for their feedback on what intellectual property was being used, and how. These same colleagues could also inform her of how Harman’s competition was using its intellectual property – information which gave her a stronger grasp of both any vulnerabilities that a licensing programme might create and, crucially, how much demand there might be from potential licensees.

Shaking things up

Having conducted this extensive research into Harman’s intellectual assets and competitive landscape, Harvey Dawson presented Paliwal with a four-pronged approach of how those assets could be better utilised to drive the bottom line.

The first part of this plan involved identifying opportunities to sell patents to third-party operating companies based on her review of the Harman portfolio. The second piece of the puzzle related to technology licensing – “focusing on the actual technologies themselves and evaluating what they could do and what additional value they could bring”. “A lot of the technologies we focused on were in our audio processing space, given our history,” she explains. “We realised that there were additional uses for these technologies beyond just Harman products, so this part of the plan involved us taking those technologies and extending them beyond to other products and categories.”

Closely associated with the licensing of Harman technologies was the monetisation of its brands. “We have thousands of registrations throughout the world protecting our brands, but they have greater value than that. There is a pre-eminence in our 16 leading brands: they mean premium audio, they mean quality, innovation,” enthuses Harvey Dawson. “Being able to attach those brands, and get remuneration for those brands and technologies as an offering, was what we and the business put together as the third part of the proposal.”

Leading by example

Alyssa Harvey Dawson is one of a growing number of women in the IP space committed to encouraging and supporting the development and progress of other women in the field

In 2008 IAM ran an article questioning why there were so few women heading up in-house patent teams and leading the way in private patent practice. In the eight years that have passed since then, the patent community has seen more women climb the ladder and take on senior roles; but the question unfortunately still remains to be asked and equal representation looks a long way off. Rather than sitting back and waiting for numbers to improve organically, as the gender bias facing women and girls in the sciences fades and the legal community becomes less of an old boys’ club, some influential women in the IP community have taken matters into their own hands. Through networking groups and education programmes, they hope to encourage and support others who are seeking to make their mark on the IP field and to highlight the importance of diversity.

Harvey Dawson is one such woman looking to inspire change: “I think diversity in the workplace is important not just because it’s nice for everyone to be fairly represented, but because the world is made up of many types of people. Therefore, if businesses are going to serve their customers well, they should reflect that diverse culture – it’s just good business sense.” As such, Harman has launched the Harman Women’s Network, co-chaired by Harvey Dawson, to provide networking opportunities and share insight from both internal and external speakers. The aim is to support the development and recognition of women in technology – and specifically within Harman – through this networking framework. “We decided to organise ourselves in chapters not only because of the sheer number of employees, but because it was evident to us that some of the issues facing a woman in China, for example, will differ from those an American woman faces,” she elaborates.

As well as acknowledging and addressing the cultural differences that Harman’s female employees face, the group appreciates that there is much to learn from shining a spotlight on the experiences of women in the tech industry. The universal value of such programmes was epitomised in a recent speech by lead director Ann McLaughlin Korologos. “This session was great for breaking down hierarchical barriers,” explains Harvey Dawson, “as everybody – not just women, and not just executives – was invited to come and interact (live or via the Web) with this senior leader with whom they otherwise may not have had any communication or interaction.”

Outside of Harman, Harvey Dawson continues these efforts with other organisations of women from the worlds of law and intellectual property. Probably the most prominent is non-profit corporation ChIPs, established in 2005 as an informal networking community by seven heads of IP and patents at major technology companies based in Silicon Valley – including the current director of the US Patent and Trademark Office, Michelle Lee – who felt there was a need for a group to support and encourage the advancement and retention of women in intellectual property and technology. “I have been involved in ChIPs for some time now – first as an observer who took much from the meetings of these great minds managing IP in the technology space,” explains Harvey Dawson. “Then, after a while, I realised that women more junior in their careers were asking me about my experiences and that I too had some knowledge worth imparting. The great thing about ChIPs is that it is so much more than networking; it brings practical, useful skills to members and provides young female executives with invaluable experience that they would be unable to get elsewhere.”

While there is clearly some way to go before women have equal representation in the patent space, Harvey Dawson has seen an improvement in the balance since she first began her career and hails these networking groups as fertile ground for discovering emerging talent. “Through ChIPs and another body I am involved with – the Women of Influence and Power in Law network – I have encountered many impressive female attorneys who I now consider when I have to put a team together.” Hopefully, another eight years from now, we will no longer be asking “Where are all the women?”, but rather, “Where have all these women come from?” And the answer will no doubt largely lie with groups such as those in which Harvey Dawson is playing a leading role.

The final element was selective patent enforcement, which the company undertakes from time to time based on input and analysis from the business. From the outset, Harvey Dawson understood that to secure buy-in for her plan, she would need to pitch it carefully. “I know how people can feel about patent monetisation and patent enforcement, so I didn’t lead with that part of the plan, in that I didn’t devise one that solely focused on patents – either patent sales or enforcement,” she says. “Instead, I wanted to take into consideration the various IP that we had created over the years and to create a plan that played to what I (and some business executives) saw as some unique strengths of Harman. It seemed as if there was value that we could bring to others through selectively licensing our technology (a lot of which is patented) and our brands, for which we also have strong protections. That programme – which is now part of a division – has had success; and by working as a partner with the business division, we have been able to license our technology and brands to parties such as TCL, LG and HTC, among others. Our brands and technology have been appearing in spaces where we were not as active, adding new revenue streams and channels to Harman.”

As Harvey Dawson observes, the plan is now under the stewardship of the business unit that was the initial focus of her proposal to the CEO – lifestyle audio. Executives from that business are thus seeking additional technologies to license and package up with brands, and continuing to push business development, product development and engineering. “It’s almost like the programme that we ran was an incubation – a test concept,” she muses. “So the next step is to really implement it as a programme and I expect we will see more offerings”.

Harman and Microsoft collaborate to bring driver productivity to the global automotive industry

Onwards and upwards

A key aspect of this will be testing how the plan might apply beyond lifestyle audio to Harman’s other business units. Harvey Dawson is pragmatic about the role that she and her team can and should play in taking the project forward: “While the programme is being implemented, the IP team will continue to sell Harman patents where it makes sense, do selective enforcement and license our brands. So we are still involved from the standpoint of working with the business to monetise Harman’s IP. But when it comes to growing the programme, you need more dedicated resources. We managed to run it by borrowing resources from the business division to help out – and that is then when the business needs to step in and take over.”

Harman International in numbers

  • $6.4 billion in revenues
  • 28,000+ professionals worldwide
  • 12,600 engineers
  • 5,900 patents and patents pending
  • 16+ legendary brands
  • 80% of luxury cars have Harman systems
  • Grammys awarded to Harman

Finding the resources to explore these kinds of opportunities is an issue not only for those seeking to develop their own licensing programmes, but also for prospective licensees, and indeed the licensing space has experienced some turbulence of late. However, Harvey Dawson is positive that there is appetite for what Harman and others like it are doing. “Margins are compressed and it can be difficult to exhibit the value of your patent assets to a potential licensee,” she concedes; “but there is still plenty of room for technology licensing in the market.”

Harman brand JBL headphones

In addition to laying the groundwork for Harman to capitalise on its intellectual assets, Harvey Dawson has significantly grown the volume of such assets at its disposal. When she joined the company in 2011, this figure stood at approximately 3,500 patents and patents pending; today, the number is approaching the 6,000 mark. “That growth is attributable to the innovation of our engineers,” she explains. “We have also acquired some assets through acquisitions and we have better tools, processes and systems in place to capture innovation.”

Harman Kardon Aura wireless home audio system

She is quick to point out, however, that it is not how many assets you have, but what you do with them that counts. “It’s not a numbers game,” she insists. “We routinely consider what patents we could divest through our monetisation programme and we aggressively recommend the abandonment of patents where it is deemed appropriate. Our portfolio is dynamic and always evolving, changing shape and direction as we collaborate with our divisions and the technology teams and tap into the areas of technology in which we expect for there to be growth and business potential.”

While in the past Harvey Dawson may have been judged on figures such as these, her success these days is measured by softer benchmarks. “In my first couple of years at Harman, the CTO and I shared innovation targets that focused on the amount of ideas flowing in,” she says. “However, each year these targets were consistently surpassed by significant amounts, which spoke to the awareness of the importance of innovation at the company. As a result, my targets do not focus on the number of ideas flowing in. They are more focused on the integration of IP and IP considerations across the company and in connection with strategic initiatives; ensuring we have appropriate IP protections and enforcement; ensuring we have appropriate terms in our technology-driven transactions; and developing a comprehensive IP strategy that takes into account the diversity and breadth of our business and our key growth initiatives and getting the appropriate value out of our IP assets.”

Alyssa Harvey Dawson – an insight

Who is your IP hero?

I really do not have any one individual whom I could designate as a hero. What I will say is that I have practised many different disciplines in my legal career – from IP to M&A to sales to litigation – and I have had the good fortune to work with and learn from excellent legal colleagues and business executives over the years. When I need a sounding board, I know that I am lucky to have more than a few people I can reach out to for guidance.

Outside of IP, who or what has been the biggest inspiration in your life so far?

My biggest inspirations in my life are in my personal life – starting with my parents, who are the best people I know and for whom I have the utmost respect. And then there is my son, who is my greatest joy and teaches me about myself every day.

Do you have any hobbies?

I used to perform improv – I loved it for its freedom of expression and collaboration. You really get the opportunity to get outside of yourself. Family and career are taking priority now, but I do hope to pick up performing again one day.

Where is your favourite place to holiday?

Paris, because every time I have visited it has felt special and kind of magical. The people were also wonderfully tolerant of my French, which I appreciated.

What’s your favourite season of the year and why?

Spring – it represents renewal and I love the dynamics of change and reinvention.

If you could invite any five people (living or deceased, real or fictional) to a dinner party who would they be?

My grandparents – they all died between my teens and early 20s, which for a young kid/adult is before you realise that they are people with lives outside of being your grandparents. Because of that, I would love to sit with them and hear more about who they were as people: their dreams, our family history, their successes and struggles.

And what would you eat?

Whatever their favourite foods were. I would love to experience the foods that they remembered, cherished and grew up with.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A journalist or psychiatrist. As a lawyer, I feel like I do a little bit of both – trying to ferret out the facts, circumstances, goals and objectives and then using that knowledge to act as counsel/sounding board/solution provider to my clients.

If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be and why?

Where I am living right now, because it’s home and close to my extended family. One day I could see myself spending some time living abroad – maybe splitting my time in a place like Paris or other locations in Europe, as I also have grown to appreciate my international experiences and would love to impart those to my son.

Looking back at your 18-year-old self, what advice would you give her?

Be fearless. Don’t ever be afraid of making mistakes – that’s life.

And how do you think your 18-year-old self would respond?

I know (smile).

Alyssa Harvey Dawson and family enjoying a vacation

Team spirit

Harvey Dawson goes on to sum up this multi-faceted mission as: “Staying consistent and current, and ensuring that our IP efforts tie in with, and facilitate, the overall business strategy.” To this end, she takes great care to interface regularly, and productively, with the wider business – something that was not always so easy. “When I joined the company it seemed that IP was much more squirrelled away,” she recalls; “but we have worked to place it much more centrally within Harman.”

Those efforts have paid off and mean that today, while Harvey Dawson reports directly to the general counsel (GC), she also makes regular updates to the executive committee on which the GC sits and has liaised closely with the chief technology officer (CTO) and the executives from the company’s four divisions. However, she suggests that in this kind of role, formal reporting lines are far less important than how you actually make your mark in practice: “I think it matters less where you report; it is more about the impact that you can have and the awareness that you are able to build throughout the organisation. That is why it is important, if you do report in legal, to ensure that you have access to the wider executive committee, because it ensures you don’t get too single minded about what you are doing and are grounded in the wider business and key objectives of the company.”

Harvey Dawson is supported by a team of approximately 20 lawyers, paralegals and IP specialists, split into distinct divisions under her leadership “Trademarks are an important element for us as we are, after all, a house of brands,” she explains; the brand protection and enforcement team is thus entrusted with their stewardship. The patent team handles prosecution, with members placed as close to the business as possible in bases in Detroit, Germany, India and China – all locations that are central to Harman’s R&D efforts. “We want IP to be part of the conversation and for our team to collaborate with the innovators during the innovation process, rather than react to the R&D coming out of the labs,” explains Harvey Dawson. “That can only really happen if they are there, on the ground.”

The IP litigation team deals with all litigation and pre-litigation matters; while the IP transactions team manages and provides oversight for IP-driven transactions, including drafting and negotiating joint development agreements and licences, as well as reviewing IP terms in Harman’s commercial agreements. Finally, the IP product counsel/open-source team provides guidance on IP issues that arise in connection with the development of Harman products – whether through collaboration, joint development or open source. Harvey Dawson explains that this team works closely with product development to ensure not only that the company has the right IP protection in place, but also that the intellectual property of third parties is not inadvertently infringed.

Reaching out

Indeed, this respect for third-party rights has become even more important given the spirit of collaboration that currently prevails at Harman. In the first six weeks of this year alone, the company announced partnerships with Google, Microsoft and InterDigital, as well as the acquisition of global automotive cybersecurity outfit TowerSec. Harvey Dawson is reluctant get into the specifics, but it is evident that the partnerships are intended to cement Harman’s position as a leader in the red-hot Internet of Things (IoT) and connected car markets. “If you look at the products that we premiered at the Consumer Electronics Show and other auto shows, you can see that we are really serious about being a key part of the conversation as it moves forward,” she states of the company’s ambitions in the connected car space. She herself regards the heightened interest in this area as more opportunity than threat: “The convergence of technology in the auto industry – and specifically in the connected car – is extremely exciting,” she enthuses. “We feel like we are primed and at the forefront of the next generation of innovations that are happening in the area.”

And the company’s commitment to excellence in innovation is paying tangible dividends. In October 2015 Harman was recognised as the global leader in the IoT services market by HfS Research, which claimed: “With end-to-end service capabilities and a deep knowledge of the industries it serves, Harman has demonstrated exceptional innovation and execution, setting it up well to capitalise on the growing IoT market.” Furthermore, in February 2016 Harman was the recipient of a BIG innovation award in the automotive category by Business Intelligence for its 5+1 cybersecurity architecture.

Threat versus opportunity

But however positive the outlook, there is always the risk that these burgeoning sectors could become the battleground for the next series of patent wars, with innovators and non-practising entities (NPEs) alike fighting tooth and claw to stake their claims, as happened in the smartphone space. “If I could predict the next big thing in patent litigation, I would probably be doing something else!” laughs Harvey Dawson when asked what she makes of this suggestion. “What I can say is that a part of my job is to look at trends, to understand those trends, understand what has happened previously and see if there any trends that are applicable to our products and that we should be aware of. Is it possible that folks will see the connected car sector as an attractive one? It is certainly possible, and I will continue to monitor it on a regular basis and try to apply the appropriate protections and defences as required.”

Those defences, assures Harvey Dawson, have solid foundations and are underpinned by a no-nonsense approach. “Being in a sector that does perhaps make us a more visible target for NPEs has given us a desire to be more vigilant and more aware, and to develop a culture of not being taken advantage of,” she states. “It is important to ensure that you don’t have holes in your intellectual property and that you have built a solid portfolio in case you do become a target.”

Should the prospect of litigation become a reality, Harvey Dawson will not discriminate in her handling of it, no matter who brings it to her door – provided, of course, that this is done in the right way. “As IP owners, we at Harman respect IP and respect what it takes to get IP,” she states. “I’m not going to judge how an entity uses its intellectual property so long as it’s using it within the confines of the law and it represents itself in a reasonable manner. We will take anybody seriously that comes to us with a solid patent, no matter who they are.”

For now, however, patent disputes and the potential threat of NPEs remain on the back burner, while Harvey Dawson trains her laser focus on ensuring that the business continues to blaze a trail in its chosen markets. “Ultimately, what we at Harman do is make products and try to push the envelope on innovation, and we are going to continue to do that,” she states. “We are going to continue to harvest inventions, and we’re going to continue to partner with our businesses to ensure that the things that we make are protected and are front and centre in the innovation world.” 

Action plan

Alyssa Harvey Dawson joined connected technologies and audio giant Harman International just five years ago. In that short time she has implemented an IP monetisation programme and significantly grown the company’s patent portfolio, to ensure that Harman retains its elite position in the age of convergence:

  • According to Harvey Dawson, reporting lines matter less than the ability to build awareness throughout your organisation. She regularly feeds back to the wider executive committee and engages with the heads of Harman’s business units.
  • Under Harvey Dawson’s leadership, the company’s patent portfolio may have grown sizeably, but she maintains that it is not a numbers game and that it is important to regularly comb through your portfolio for any patents that could be divested or abandoned.
  • Upon joining Harman, Harvey Dawson was tasked with getting to grips with the company’s intellectual property and identifying whether it could be better utilised. After extensive research, she proposed a four-pronged plan that incorporated many aspects of Harman’s intellectual assets, and was not focused solely on patent monetisation and enforcement.
  • Operating in a sector that is under increasing focus from NPEs has informed Harvey Dawson’s no-nonsense approach to infringement. She does not judge how an entity chooses to uses its intellectual property, so long as this is lawful and reasonable.

Sara-Jayne Clover is a senior reporter with IAM, based in its London office

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