Making the Pitch for Intellectual Property:
William Coughlin and the Harness Dickey IP Innovation Diversity Sprint

Harness Dickey (HDP) CEO William Coughlin, ’80, spent his Saturday providing future Spartan lawyers with a unique opportunity: to test-drive careers in the IP field.

The capstone experience of MSU Law’s annual Diversity Week, the inaugural IP Innovation Diversity Sprint took place on March 27, and immersed students in the world of intellectual property practice. Along with IP counsel from four corporations, Coughlin facilitated a daylong competition program that tasked students to tackle real-word IP problems currently faced by HDP’s corporate partners in this event. Law students were paired up with “phone a friend” partner/mentors from HDP for support and feedback.

“I wanted to find an innovative way to simultaneously offer diverse students a real-world challenge, help several corporations reimagine what they could do with their intellectual property assets, showcase diversity talent for employment, demonstrate the deeply-felt commitment within my IP law firm – and have some fun,” said Coughlin.

Mary Ann Ferguson, ’02, assistant dean for Diversity and Equity Services and founder of Diversity Week, described the vision and execution from Coughlin and his collaborators as “nothing short of stellar.”

I work each year as though it will be my last. Someday, this will be true, of course. But if you think that this will be your last year to change the lives around you for the better, it’s pretty motivating.

William Coughlin, ’80

“I was so impressed by the efforts of Bill Coughlin, the mentors, and attorney competition judges that I was speechless,” said Dean Ferguson. “Without reservation, I look forward to future diversity, equity, and inclusion partnerships between MSU Law and HDP.”

Coughlin hopes that the experience will inspire students who may not have seriously considered IP to enter the field, bringing new talent into the IP pipeline.

“Three of the four corporate IP chiefs who participated in this event are also diversity success stories,” he observed. “They, together with partner-mentors from my firm, definitely helped inspire creativity in the students.”

Coughlin brings extensive IP experience to his role as chief executive officer at Harness Dickey, a hundred-year-old intellectual property firm with branches in metro Detroit, Dallas, St. Louis, and Washington, DC. His previous in-house work includes assistant general counsel to Ford Motor Company, IP law leader for DaimlerChrysler, and chief IP counsel for the Chrysler Corporation.

Even after 40 years in practice, the freshness and variety in Coughlin’s work still energizes him. “IP practice always seems new,” he said. “You work on coming innovations, deals across the world, and advancing brands worth billions.”

He knows that rewarding careers – and lasting bonds – can be formed in the three years of law school. Coughlin observed that before founding HDP, J. King Harness, Arthur Dickey, and Hodgson Pierce were classmates in the Class of 1920 at the Detroit College of Law (today known as MSU Law) He hopes to inspire a similar entrepreneurial mindset in these lawyers-in-the-making.

“I told the students in the IP Sprint that they too could someday start a law firm together that could last over 100 years,” said Coughlin.

Students generated creative solutions for that minimized litigation risk and maximized profitability for products patented by some of HDP’s corporate partners:
Dana: bearing assemblies
Harman International: Bluetooth loudspeakers
Polaris: cargo lock rings
Volvo Cars: turbocharger system components