When Mary Fuller joined Maxim Integrated Products in 2008, she stepped into a company amid substantial change. A new CEO had taken the helm in 2007 and was prioritizing a different approach to intellectual property. Instead of continuing the company’s 25-year-old tradition of competitive silos among business units and within the workforce, the emphasis was placed on breaking down those silos and working together as “One Maxim.” This shift included, among other things, increased information sharing and a new, centralized IP program.
“When I came to Maxim, I came into a fully formed company with a vast product portfolio and a lot of IP opportunity,” says Fuller. “And the concept of ‘One Maxim’ wrapped IP strategy around everything else, looking across the whole company to see how to leverage IP from one unit to advance the whole.” The company had plenty of innovative products but lacked a strategic IP program. That, along with more than two decades of a self-protective mentality, required a change in culture—a difficult task in itself, but, Fuller says, even more so for a female engineer and lawyer working in a 30-year-old company led largely by men.
“I was in a hotbed of intelligence, with an opportunity to understand where they had been and how to put together a forward-looking, strategic program,” she says. “It was a big change from Maxim’s previous start-up mentality. In some respects, that felt like a hurdle to get over.”
Fuller’s goal was to change the way the rest of company viewed IP at a fundamental level. Rather than as secrets to be guarded, IP should be shared to support the whole company. IP became its own department, complete with a budget and the power to issue patent bonuses and other incentives. Instead of separating the company, IP was now a force to bring it together.
Fuller’s first task was to establish credibility. It helped that she had worked in the trenches as an electrical engineer and understood what it meant to be on a project team and hit benchmarks. Even more crucial was helping Maxim add a new title to the C-suite: chief technology officer (CTO). Fuller worked with company leaders to convince a previous group president to become Maxim’s CTO. Together, they established what it meant to have a CTO and a patent department—to take a strategic approach to growing the company. The CTO has since retired, but having his public respect and support was invaluable to Fuller’s acceptance as a leader at Maxim. “You need a strong insider who knows the company to help you learn the technology and players and to establish yourself,” she says.
“I was in a hotbed of intelligence, with an opportunity to understand where they had been and how to put together a forward-looking, strategic program.”
Creating a framework for IP strategy was as essential as confirming high-level buy-in to it. The framework had to clearly explain the fundamentals of an exclusive IP strategy while being customized to integrate well at Maxim. Fuller drafted different parts of the program with the CTO and GC to make sure the structure matched Maxim’s culture. That process, along with the CEO’s support, gave Fuller the authority she needed to elevate the plan to the next levels of the company. She met with vice presidents, senior scientists, and general managers, and she embarked on a tour of Maxim offices around the world to explain strategy, provide IP education, and build trust.
A patent-review committee was established with people from across the world. Because the program relied heavily on critique and thoughtful feedback, the committee had to develop a system of communicating honestly with one another, especially about ideas that were not worth the investment in a patent. “Getting the team to a place of feeling comfortable asking critical questions was difficult,” says Fuller. “We started with a simple show of hands but eventually moved to anonymous voting.”
Across Maxim’s international framework, the cultural understanding of IP has changed. The enhanced integration and communication has built trust among departments and saved the company money. Now, when one area is in need of a tool or resource, instead of paying an outside developer to create it, it can most often be found in another part of Maxim’s operation. “It’s important to have that kind of cross-pollination across the board,” says Fuller.
The program tracks expenses for each patent, so when one is determined to no longer be a good fit for Maxim, it can be sold at an appropriate price. In addition, on the occasion that the CEO decides Maxim should no longer support a certain technology, the company now has the ability to spin out new businesses at least partially based on those patents. That means that instead of being let go, employees can often find new positions in other projects within Maxim or at the acquiring companies. “In many ways, the patent program keeps us accountable,” says Fuller.
Statistically, companies bolstered by appropriately sized patent portfolios have stable and higher stock values. Because of that, Maxim’s patent portfolio has grown from being proportionately undersized to consistent with the growth of the company. Less than a year into Fuller’s tenure, Maxim went from having no strategy for reviewing patents to having a fully formed program. “I was creating something new out of old cloth,” says Fuller. Maxim’s IP is more focused than it has ever been. It has a strategy that matches the business’s overall vision, and that strategy has added to the health of a collaborative company culture.