Never Stop Discovering

Scott Piering on why he left the research lab for the law firm and how he’s using both science and law to help Spectrum Brands grow

Scott Piering, Spectrum Brands

He dreamed of making a dramatic discovery or having a complex theory named after him. He’d work at a university, conduct fascinating research, and win the admiration of students and experts alike. That passion for science led him to pursue an undergraduate degree in chemistry and biology. Graduate school followed. Everything was going as planned. But then, one day, Scott Piering realized that most professors weren’t spending their days doing what he envisioned. Suddenly, the work he romanticized seemed as though it was just another job, so he decided to explore other options.

Piering started his new journey by reading famous books about life and career change. The book What Color is your Parachute and other renowned tomes helped him identify some key interests and passions. Careers in medicine, sales, teaching, and law were recurring themes. Piering sought out connections working in those fields and, in the end, it was legal that stood out. He took the LSAT and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Just months after he was sitting in a research lab, he was now enjoying introductory lectures on torts, contract law, and civil procedure.

Upon graduation, Piering joined a large California firm, hoping to be a case litigator and win antitrust or securities cases. But he soon realized that he missed a part of what drove him to study chemistry. “I missed being involved in science,” Piering recalls. “I wanted to find a way to balance science and law.” Seeking to unite his two passions sparked another informal research phase, and that’s when he discovered the world of intellectual property (IP). IP lawyers work closely with scientists and inventors to patent, protect, and support their innovations.

The prospect of practicing law in support of science and innovation excited Piering, so he switched firms and sought training in IP law. Although the work more closely aligned with his interests, it still wasn’t a perfect fit. “I was involved in a lot of litigation, and I would go home every night and cross-examine my two-year-old. My wife didn’t like that,” Piering says with a laugh.

Eventually, he was offered an opportunity to go in-house at Cargill, and he leapt at the change. At Cargill, Piering found his interests, passions, and personality closely aligned. “When you’re in-house, you work directly with the business to grow and develop new products and services. You leverage your legal background to enhance the value of the business,” Piering explains. Additionally, Piering started using another one of his identified interests—sales—to help discover creative ways to add value.

After nearly twelve years, Piering left the agricultural company to work on his own, but soon a recruiter called him to interview at Spectrum Brands. Piering met with leaders at the global consumer products company and thought it would be the right fit. He saw opportunity at Spectrum Brands, where both the trademark and patent areas could work closely together, unlike many other companies.

With brands such as Rayovac, Remington, Pfister, and Armor All, to name a few, the company was growing, and Piering would grow IP protection right along with it. “Spectrum Brands is a multinational company with phenomenal brands and strong products,” Piering says. “I knew I could help them, and I knew I would have to use all of my personality and background to get the job done.”

So when Piering arrived in 2014, he was given the chance to build his IP team from the ground up. The efficient team that Piering has built thus far works to protect the brands, trademarks, patents, copyrights, and trade secrets of a company with about 16,500 employees, roughly $5 billion in net sales, and more than one hundred offices worldwide.

Piering believes a company’s IP strategy must always support business strategy. The business strategy around a product—where, how, and how long it will be sold, coupled with the nature of the innovation itself—dictates the protection scheme. For example, if Spectrum Brands will only use the innovation for a short time, it may instead forgo a patent and keep the internal mechanisms as a trade secret, relying on the brands to enhance and deliver sustainable value.

“People here have a passion for excellence, and I get to use business, law, and science to help a growing company. I learn something new every day.”

Scott Piering

Uniting trademarks and patents is a major aspect to this work. “Many companies innovate and then force their innovations to attach to a brand,” Piering says. “At Spectrum Brands, we look at what a brand stands for and then innovate to that brand.” Russell Hobbs, for example, is a premium appliance brand. Spectrum Brands’ teams may innovate to create a premium appliance or feature and then expand the Russell Hobbs brand to match the innovation. By engaging patents and trademarks on one team, Spectrum builds synergy, and that collaboration allows the team to accomplish things in a quicker time frame.

Piering is also taking other important steps to maximize value in Spectrum Brands’ IP by strategically implementing technology and improving workflow processes between the divisions and departments.

“When the company was smaller, a more casual system was reasonable,” Piering says. “However, as we continued to grow and our innovation grew with us, we needed to formalize the process around invention and trademark submission by the businesses, joint review, and ultimately a shared business and IP strategy.”

Although this move to a process-based approach to IP management within Spectrum Brands is a long-term project, the company is already seeing some of the results. More of the innovation is being protected, as demonstrated by a dramatic increase in the number of patents and trademarks filed over the past several years.

Since 2011, Spectrum Brands has grown its net sales from about $3 billion to $5 billion. Piering attributes much of that success in part to the people and culture that make up the company. “People here have a passion for excellence, and I get to use business, law, and science to help a growing company. I learn something new every day,” Piering says. “And that keeps me coming back for more.” 

“Scott combines deep knowledge and experience in global IP protection and enforcement with a practical and savvy approach to problem-solving to meet the needs of his clients. He is also a forceful advocate for the clients’ interests. It is a rare combination that serves his clients extremely well.”

—Cara Boyle, Partner, Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu, P.C.