Chiefly responsible: Head of long-standing IP firm embraces key leadership role


Photo courtesy of Ray Millien

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

For the past three and a half years, Ray Millien was in the habit of “buying legal services” as the Chief IP Officer at Volvo Car Corp., the giant Swedish automaker.

Now, nearly three months after becoming Chief Executive Officer of Harness IP (formerly Harness Dickey), Millien is experiencing a role reversal of sorts.

“In a sense, I now view the past in-house experience in the form of ‘good intelligence’ for my current responsibilities, which will be to build our book of business even more in the years ahead,” said Millien. “At Volvo, I was in a position of being courted by law firms that wanted our business. Now, I will be the one approaching companies about handling their legal work.”

Millien, by all accounts, is well-suited for the role, sporting an Ivy League pedigree en route to key IP in-house counsel positions in four different industries – automotive, energy, financial services, and health care – over the past 25 years.

The 1992 Columbia University alum heads a boutique IP firm in the midst of its centennial celebration that now numbers nearly 100 attorneys, spread across offices in the metropolitan areas of Detroit, St. Louis, Dallas, and Washington, D.C.

The recently rebranded Harness IP traces its roots to the fledgling auto industry of the early 1920s when founder Jake Harness launched his patent and trademark firm in the spring of 1921 on the 10th floor of the Detroit’s tallest skyscraper, the Majestic Building.

By the mid-1960s, the law firm had grown to 26 lawyers and moved to a larger space in the Fisher Building, across from the then headquarters of General Motors. In the early ’90s, it shifted to its current Troy headquarters, now within an easy drive to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office branch in Detroit.

When Millien began his new CEO duties on August 1, he gave a nod to the firm’s storied past.

“As CEO, I’ll not only practice with the finest IP lawyers, but also will help Harness Dickey build on its long and preeminent history of serving the country’s most elite businesses, universities, inventors, artists, and entrepreneurs,” Millien said upon taking the leadership reins. “It’s the ultimate opportunity in the perfect place with the right people.”

In outlining his vision for the firm, Millien is of a mind to reimagine “the way IP boutiques deliver legal services, ensuring the firm emulates its clients by embracing innovations with a similar zeal.” In addition, Millien plans to “utilize through operational efficiency” some of the work-life balance ideology he embraced while working for Volvo in Sweden.

Millien, who earned his law degree from George Washington University in 1997, is a product of humble beginnings, growing up in Brooklyn in a mostly single-parent household. His parents immigrated to the United States from Haiti six years before he was born, raising a family of three children before divorcing.

“I have two older sisters, both of whom were born in Haiti, which is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere,” said Millien. “We had little growing up, but we had each other and that counted for a lot.”

His mother, now 82 and a Florida resident, spent 35 years working in various nursing assistant roles at Beth Israel Hospital in New York before retiring.

“My dad passed away when I was 18, but he lived long enough to read my acceptance letter to Columbia, which was a very proud moment for him,” Millien said.

Millien, who attended Catholic schools from K-12, majored in computer science at Columbia, where he landed a summer internship with General Electric and then his first job as a software engineer for GE Aerospace, now Lockheed Martin.

“I spent two years there, writing software for various commercial and military projects before I was encouraged to enroll in law school,” Millien indicated. “In all honesty, I really didn’t enjoy engineering, but I absolutely loved my time at George Washington, where the Socratic method of learning was a good fit for me.”

Upon graduation from law school, Millien began work at Sterne Kessler, one of the premier IP law firms in the world.

“They recruited me out of law school and I spent four really good years there, filing patent applications during the boom,” he said.

From there, he went to work for DLA Piper, one of the largest law firms in the world with an army of more than 4,000 attorneys in 40 countries around the globe.

“That was pretty heady stuff for someone like me,” Millien said of the experience. “It was a long way from Brooklyn, so to speak.”

It set the stage for his move into in-house counsel work, first with the merchant bank Ocean Tomo, which provides technology-related merger and acquisition advice as well as valuation and analytics services. He also has led the IP function at GE Oil & Gas and American Express Co., and the software IP function at GE Healthcare before joining Volvo in 2018 as head of its IP department.

His work and his smarts have been noticed by Intellectual Asset Management magazine, which has repeatedly named Millien one of the “World’s 300 Leading IP Strategists,” recognition that undoubtedly caught the eye of Bill Coughlin, his predecessor as CEO of the firm.

Coughlin, now consulting counsel at Harness IP, and Millien gained a mutual respect during their involvement as legal adversaries in a large licensing deal pitting Ford against Volvo.

“Bill called me about a year ago about whether I would be interested in succeeding him as CEO, saying that I had the right temperament and would be a perfect fit to lead the firm into the next century of operations,” said Millien.
“He finally talked me into it and I’m certainly glad that he did.”

As the leadership transition took place, Coughlin said it was the ideal time to entrust the firm “to someone with the acumen, ideas, and energy to catapult us in the next stage of our growth,” adding “no one better than Ray can help us continue to harness innovation as we start on our next 100 years.”

While flattered by such praise, Millien said his focus will be on bringing “more value” to clients of the boutique firm.

“By succeeding at that, we will have the opportunity to grow as well, opening new markets for us to explore and develop,” he said.

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