Atlanta Spotlight: Kevin Cranman
Ask Kevin Cranman what it is to work as an in-house attorney for a company, and he will give you a very straight answer, “you solve problems - or else…”. The challenges, or opportunities as some might say, include sales deals, corporate matters and M&A, dispute resolution and litigation, protection and exploitation of intellectual property and confidential information, supply chain and vendor management, HR and employment issues, and providing general counsel – all focused on helping the corporate client solve a problem.
Though he was born in Merced, California, Kevin grew up in Atlanta – and qualifies as a native, attending schools in DeKalb County. He always knew that he wanted to be a lawyer, admitting he thought of courtroom drama and debates, yet finding persuasion and influencing skills important for solving problems and achieving results.
After graduating Lakeside High School, he attended the University of Georgia where he first took core business curriculum classes and then combined his business background with an English major, seeing the combination as a good preparation for law.
Kevin entered UGA law school in 1990. Apart from the usual challenges of having to master a massive amount of material in a short period of time, which he found fascinating, he also met many interesting people with whom he is still socializes today. After his second year of law school he had a summer clerkship with Georgia Tech’s Office of Legal Affairs. Working primarily on technology issues, including software licensing, information protection, and IP, he apparently made a favorable impression on Tech’s legal department. “They wanted me to transfer to Georgia State for my last year of law school and keep working for Georgia Tech,” said Kevin. “I was flattered and tempted, but decided to finish in Athens.”
Upon graduating, Kevin moved back to Atlanta and joined the Georgia Tech legal department. “We did a lot of legal work regarding technology and intellectual property issues, as well as supported sponsored research - fundamental/academic research, industry-sponsored research, and work for the Department of Defense,” said Kevin. But the very nature of being an attorney for a large research university required him to work on all sorts of matters. “I was involved with a personal injury case,” he said. “A PhD candidate who was severely injured in a laboratory explosion filed suit. It was an interesting case – involving traditional tort aspects, as well as whether the injured party was a student, employee, or both – or did the status change.” He also worked on some employment matters, including gender issues and workplace behavior. He added that he had to develop new communication skills when he found himself at a relatively young age, maybe 23-24, counseling someone much older on inappropriate language or behavior in the workplace.
But it was the law around technology and IP that interested him the most, and he jumped at the opportunity to join BellSouth’s Intellectual Property team. BellSouth had formed a group to manage, capture, protect, and exploit IP – including improved education on the importance and value of protecting and cultivating IP, properly protecting confidential information, supply chain management – and re-licensing / re-selling with vendors, and out-licensing IP – to generate value in reduced R&D costs, increased good will, and actual cash generation. Kevin helped educate BellSouth employees on IP, worked vendor/R&D deals to properly protect and leverage IP being acquired, worked on re-seller and out-licensing matters, and supported some M&A due diligence on M&A targets. The new division turned into a major success story for the company. Despite enjoying what he was doing, Kevin says he left “to go play dot com,” and he joined ProAct Technology in 2000.
ProAct was a spinoff from iXL, a successful bricks-and-clicks company. ProAct provided online platforms for mortgages, insurance, and financial products, employee benefits, voluntary benefits, and information management. ProAct supplied to companies and financial institutions, who used the platform to streamline benefits programs, employee self-service, and knowledge management. Unfortunately, by 2001, the internet bubble had burst, and ProAct was suddenly “feeling less well – and we were consolidating a company that had grown quickly, both organically and by acquisition,” recalls Kevin. “I saw both the up and the down,” says Kevin, “and they both came fast.” While that was a very difficult and challenging time, it provided Kevin with experience in dealing with a full range of legal issues that necessarily arise when a business declines. He finds the lessons he learned during that brief stint to be invaluable. According to Kevin: “Sometimes you learn more from business failures than you do from successes.”
Kevin then joined Glenayre, an Atlanta based telecommunications company, as lead attorney and Secretary to the Board of Directors. Glenayre had been a highly successful pager company and was then focused on providing voice messaging and data services for large companies, especially wireless carriers. Glenayre was a publicly traded company, and this role provided valuable corporate experience. “I performed and oversaw the regular legal work and also prepare the annual report, present at and keep minutes for the Board meetings” he said. His most interesting case at Glenayre was when a non-practicing entity (patent owner who did not supply products or services, but sought to generate revenue from alleging IP infringement, sued the company with help from a successful patent plaintiff’s attorney. “It was a challenge and an important experience,” said Kevin, “learning how to manage a high-stakes, high-cost, and time-consuming dispute – educating executives and Board members on this activity – and trying to do ‘day job’ as well.” He elaborated that the business model of NPEs, who don’t produce or sell anything but seek licenses and settlements by alleging infringement, was gaining steam then – and has continued – and is a reality in today’s market. The NTP-RIM case got people’s (including Congress’) attention several years ago – and more recent big-dollar cases, like the recent Apple-Samsung verdict, have brought IP value and risk issues to the mainstream.
After Glenayre, Kevin moved to Panasonic Mobile Communications (PMC) in 2003, where he worked for three years. PMC was on the front end of smartphones – marrying complex features – document editing, improved graphics and sounds, and games – with traditional calling and texting communication. With offices in Atlanta, the UK, and Japan and with vendors, business partners, and customers around the world, this position gave him valuable international legal and business experience that he had lacked. “With suppliers, manufacturers, and customers in many countries and time zones, we had to be aware of and sensitive to legal, business, and cultural issues to help things run smoothly. And there’s nothing like good sushi in Tokyo. It was a great opportunity,” he said.
In 2006, Kevin moved to what was then Tandberg Television. During his first year, he learned a new organization, products, and market, and worked to re-start the patent program - and worked on the possible sale of the company, which deal closed in April 2007 when Ericsson bought Tandberg in an all cash deal. Now known as Ericsson Television, the company focuses on two main businesses: video compression and distribution products and content management. Compression is important because sending data rich information, like video, without compression would be horribly expensive and cumbersome. Their Content Management products include the back office software for video-on-demand (VOD) billing, content distribution, digital asset management, and others for improved viewing experiences.
Now the General Counsel of the Ericsson Television (Americas region) division, Kevin is even more excited about the company and its products – and its place in the broader Ericsson. “The regional leadership in Dallas and global leadership in Stockholm were extremely welcoming and supportive after the acquisition,” he said, “emphasizing that we were all part of a team.” His first efforts after acquisition focused around company integration and the leveraging of Ericsson Television products into Ericsson as a whole.
Kevin enjoys his role and prides himself on being available to anyone in the company and open to any challenge. He works regularly with various levels, including the Head of the division, executives in sales, R&D, services and operations, and finance and HR – as well as front line foot soldier personnel. He emphasized that “Being a small legal department requires broad knowledge and skills in deal-doing and problem-solving – and no time for status concerns.” His work continues to be focused on technology, deal-doing, and problem-solving with some of everything thrown in – sales,R&D, , IP program, dispute management, supply chain, and employee issues. He believes the future of the company is bright. “We have great products and services, a world of consumers demanding more video-based solutions, a global platform, and great customers,” said Kevin. Ericsson Television customers include telecommunications, satellite, cable, and terrestrial companies. He really likes being a partner to the business. “A good partner tells the truth,” he said. “I really want to help good deals close to go through,” he continued, “yet I’m obligated, and counted on, to identify risks – and help the team assess options and implement the decision.”
“I’ve seen and done a lot,” said Kevin, “from the euphoria of stock options to the misery of liquidation – and everything in between. I’ve handled important sales transactions, acquisitions and divestitures, patent and employment disputes, and a few reductions in force (RIFs) affecting multiple states. One thing I’ve learned is this – don’t think anything is beneath you or that there’s anything above you that you can’t do. If you want to work as an in house attorney, and you’re afraid to get your hands dirty, my advice is to get a better attitude – because otherwise, you’re just in the way.”
Kevin has stayed professionally engaged over the years through the Licensing Executives Society (LES), the State Bar, and, recently, as a Master of the Atlanta IP American Inn of Court. He's a frequently requested faculty presenter for seminars regarding IP (management, licensing, dispute resolution), innovation, information protection, and related topics.
Kevin said he likes doing his job well - yet a recent pro bono activity where he assisted someone whose English was not so good and who had been taken advantage of in a business transaction provided good perspective and satisfaction when she thanked him, saying he's the person "G-d put in my way at a time of anguish and despair" and called him a "true angel of protection." “Doing my job for my client helps me to take care of the client and my family; doing this pro bono work permitted me to help a family in need,” he said.
While proud of his professional career, he's clearly quite enamored with his family - wife Sheila, daughters Katherine and Caroline, and puppy Daisy. When Katherine started Taido Karate 2 years ago, Kevin joined the adult beginner class, seeking to progress on his self-described battle of the bulge. He said he’s benefitted physically and mentally - and reflects upon Uchida Sensei's guidance to strive for quality in everything one does.
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