The last seven years of Kyle Turley’s career have been anything but typical. After leaving law firm life at WilmerHale in Boston, he moved in-house to act as senior IP counsel for a $3.5-billion division of what was then known as GE Oil & Gas. “One of the main things that attracted me was that GE was undergoing an extraordinary transformation from its roots as one of the world’s oldest and largest industrial companies, to a global leader in the fourth industrial revolution where large industrial machines and processes meet the digital frontier,” he says.
Then, if such a massive cultural transformation wasn’t enough, almost immediately GE announced plans to spin off GE Oil & Gas and merge it with Baker Hughes Incorporated to create Baker Hughes, a GE Company (BHGE). After more than two years of merger and integration activity, GE started selling off its controlling ownership in BHGE, which subsequently created today’s Baker Hughes.
“I was charged with helping change the very fabric of a major one hundred-plus-year-old company, just to have my business be merged with another company, to then be completely divested from GE altogether,” Turley says. “Imagine trying to change a corporate culture at the same time you’re bringing new cultures together—at times it was hard to know which end was up.”
Amidst all the change, what has kept the intellectual property (IP) attorney resolute in his own role? The transition itself. “While we are still in the process, we have steadily evolved from being purely an industrial/energy company to an energy technology company helping lead the fourth industrial revolution in the energy domain,” Turley says. “Take a look at the Baker Hughes tagline, it’s right there.”
Turley is right. The first thing you see on the company’s website is “We are Baker Hughes, an energy technology company.”
But it’s not about what the website says, it’s about the sea change that Turley has helped navigate and push forward during his seven years at Baker Hughes.
Some of the keys to his success are his fundamental interests. The lawyer is a self-described tinker—someone who loves experimenting and building things. He also enjoys a good debate to make his case. “IP is the combination of two things that I just love,” Turley says, laughing. “Tinkering with problems and arguing.”
Turley’s engineering degree and early work at Boeing before law school helped ground the future attorney in the science of his future pursuit. In fact, at first he didn’t know law school would even be possible for him given his degree.
“While I wanted to go to law school as far back as I can remember, I gave up on the idea initially in college because I had a misconception that you had to have a history or English degree,” the lawyer says. “Then, one day before class, I read an article about an electrical engineering graduate who had become a patent lawyer. It was an epiphany. I knew it was my calling immediately.”
Turley chose to get hands-on engineering experience prior to going to law school, however. He was able to defer his law school acceptance by a year to build engineering experience he knew would ultimately inform his legal practice. Then it was onto the big firm world for ten years before coming to his present role.
Turley says the challenge of working in the evolving industrial space has also been his motivation. After spending a good chunk of his career working with software and technology companies, helping the industrial space shift to a more tech mindset has been a key priority for the IP counsel.
“Companies in the industrial space going through this transition aren’t at the same place as some of my former ‘high-tech-from-day-one’ clients. It was uncharted territory,” Turley explains. “Some people like to think, just do what the major software and technology companies have been doing for the last few decades. Well, it doesn’t work that way. Many IP-related issues may sound similar to what legacy technology companies have dealt with, but these issues take on a completely new life in the industrial world. As one example, you can’t merely impose your preferred IP and data usage rights on a major national energy company like a cell phone provider can on an individual user.”
Another challenge is recalibrating sales teams to sell digital products and services. According to Turley, “for years the commercial process was much more focused—you were selling a piece of equipment whose ownership passed to the customer at the time of delivery, and perhaps a service contract. The terms and conditions were more straightforward. However, once you start selling—and in some instances partnering with other companies to sell—products and services like software, software maintenance, and remote monitoring of energy assets, it requires the sales teams to think about the entire commercial process differently, from how to structure the deal to which forms to start with.”
Turley believes that ultimately the key to working out most issues is educating people about the issues, whether internally, at partners, or at customers. “Many of the discussions I’m in involve novel issues that people are merely trying to understand, let alone address,” he explains. “When there are new issues that aren’t in people’s standard playbook, there can be a reflex to minimize the issue, or just say no altogether.”
To bridge the gap, Turley usually employs what he calls the “grandmother” standard. “I usually start by trying to describe the issue in the simplest possible terms, as if I were describing the problem to my grandmother,” he says “That usually level-sets people to what the core issue is, then from there you can get into more details and thread the needle between the various sides’ concerns. It’s incredibly important to educate people this way. It will build trust with your clients and customers, and once you do this, they will be more willing to find compromise.”
When it comes to Baker Hughes’s continental evolution, Turley, an avid music fan, quotes a song lyric from the late Avicci: “I can’t tell where the journey will end, but I know where to start.”
“I don’t think this is a journey that’s ever really finished,” he says. “Rather, it’s about being able to continuously adapt to the constant change and expectations in the industry using cues from the commercial side as a starting point.”
Turley gives the example of seeing the adoption of low-cost but reliable battery-powered vibration sensors to monitor giant multimillion-dollar turbines. “When I started my role seven years ago, this was a ‘pie in the sky’ proposition, but we saw a customer need and adapted to it technically,” he remembers. “Then, we had to figure out all the legal issues that accompany such product. At times the commercial teams were even coming to us for guidance on the best sales model since it was partially driven by IP and legal concerns. New technology brings new challenges, and there’s always new technology—it’s one of the reasons I love being an IP lawyer.”
The “Industrial Internet of Things” may be an emerging concept, but Turley’s experience is helping shape Baker Hughes’s efforts to continue its own evolution. And at this point in his career, it’s exactly where Turley wants to be. “At a philosophical level, I love learning new things,” he says. “With every problem you solve, you create two more challenges. It’s part of the fun for me—it’s one big puzzle to learn from.”