North America Team of the Year: Phillips 66

For a Fortune 10 company, the legal department at Phillips 66 is a lean one, with senior counsel, intellectual property Craig Stone and Cheryl Ratcliffe – a certified paralegal with 19 years of IP experience – reporting up to chief IP counsel Frank Eymard. However, it handles an impressive workload, deploying outside counsel in specific strategic ways to maintain cost control.

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Cynthia Walden and Lisa Greenwald-Swire of Fish & Richardson present Phillips 66’s Craig Stone with the award

The team has had a busy year, as Stone explains: “Although our brand history is deep and our company roots date back to the 19th century, Phillips 66 is still a young company, having been spun out from ConocoPhillips in 2012. Such a massive transaction creates significant branding issues, including new treatment of our brands (Phillips 66 went from a fuels and lubricants brand to becoming our house mark), and re-establishing long-term trademark coexistence relationships with other multinational companies. The areas where we have been most active over the past year are China, the European Union and South America, with various oppositions. Although our portfolio is on the smaller side compared to other similarly sized companies (with fewer than 2,000 trademark registrations), we have tremendous recognition and history with our core brands. Our oldest brand, Kendall (lubricants), dates back to 1885. We also own the fuel brands 76, Conoco, Phillips 66 and Jet, which are used to market gasoline across 10,000 service stations in the United States and Europe.”

Over the years the team has been able to shape its own approach to its mandate, he continues: “In 2012, when we spun off, we had the opportunity to reflect and ask, ‘In an ideal company, how would a brands team integrate and engage with the business?’ We then were able to set up our approach this way from the outset; and as the business has evolved, we have as well.”

One crucial aspect of this approach is the relationship with Philips’ different business functions, with the legal brand and IP team positioning itself as a strategic partner to the commercial divisions. “The team’s primary relationships are with our marketing groups for fuels and lubricants based in Houston and the European Union; but our involvement with branding and related IP issues can be felt throughout the entire organisation, which is a testament to the collegiality, trust and strong working relationships we have built across all groups,” says Stone. “These relationships are only possible through the collaboration and organisational excellence promoted by our CEO and our department head and general counsel, Paula Johnson. From the top executive down to the early-career employees, we feel like everyone takes a collaborative approach to handling IP issues.”

The result of this collaborative ethos is a flexible enforcement policy that is customised to fit the specifics of each case, explains Stone: “We look the brand at issue and the jurisdiction, the nature of the infringement, the nature of the product being infringed and the infringing person or company, among other variables. Does it appear to be an innocent infringement or bad faith? Will a simple email resolve the issue quickly or is legal action warranted? We also look at a number of commercial factors. We then tailor our enforcement accordingly – always keeping our end objective in mind. We don’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but we do ensure that our brands are meticulously enforced.”

Reflecting on the team’s success, Stone concludes: “The primary factor is this understanding of the company’s business goals. Many of our clients include us in their earliest strategy meetings so we hear exactly what everyone else in the business is hearing. It provides a huge advantage to have that kind of insight, and it affords us time to strategise and identify issues well in advance of any product or marketing launches. Ultimately, our success emanates from our mutual respect and passion for branding and the strong relationships of our team members.”

Other nominees:

Apple

Kate Spade & Company

MasterCard

World Wrestling Entertainment

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