Associate Spotlight with Dirk Kromm
Dirk Kromm entered into his career in Intellectual Property (IP) through a fascination with engineering and physics, for which he holds a university degree. Backed by his certifications in patent and trademark law from Germany and the EU, respectively, he has worked in numerous industrial organizations and IP law firms, with a particular focus on the automotive field.
Dirk Kromm flexed his IP and engineering muscles as a Senior Patent Counsel for one of the world's leading manufacturers of rail and commercial vehicle braking systems and did the same as Manager of Intellectual Property at a globally successful auto company. Dirk Kromm first joined Dennemeyer & Associates as a consultant before returning to his legal roots. Now, as Head of Patents for Dennemeyer & Associates' office in Munich — a position he reached after eight of his nine years with the firm— he blends the outside-the-box thinking of an engineer with the comprehensive knowledge of an IP law expert.
Dennemeyer's Munich office is located in the heart of the European IP industry, just a stone's throw from the German Patent and Trademark Office (DPMA) and the European Patent Office (EPO). Under the leadership of Dirk Kromm and other seasoned professionals, we are confident in our ability to provide you with the full suite of legal and IP management services for your patents and other intangible assets. [This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]
What is your favorite IP work you have been involved in?
I received the opportunity to turn a major U.S. electronics manufacturing company into one of our biggest clients, and I have been working with them for nearly three years now. This was a real challenge at first. We manage national portfolios for various entities of the parent company, making us the single point of contact for multiple jurisdictions — Germany, China, Australia, India and others — mainly in patent filing and prosecution matters. We started with a small team, but grew over the years, working internationally through our foreign offices or with partner organizations. It can be difficult, but it is always rewarding.
What is the most challenging issue you have come across in your area of IP?
I am used to working specifically as a patent attorney, and now that I have more management and product oversight responsibilities, it has been a challenge to make that transition. For example, we have several proprietary software projects in the works, and I find these especially testing as they are so far from a patent attorney's typical work — but they are vital.
How do you define success?
First of all, you must satisfy your clients. If you do not have a good relationship with them, you are not successful. And of course, you have to be profitable, but we are working for clients above all. When I measure success, I have to do it against what clients expect, and it is also about teamwork. I work with an extensive team — over 30 other attorneys, paralegals, engineers, other professionals — and we only can be successful if the team's morale and engagement are strong. Teamwork also always depends on solid personal relationships.
I should be clear that I do not measure success as my own success. It is all about my team's success, and I think I am a good team manager.
What are three words you would use to describe Dennemeyer & Associates' Munich office?
It is centralized, international and comprehensive.
If you could switch your job with anyone else in the company, whose job would you want, and why?
I think it would be fascinating to take the job of a newcomer in the field of IP and take on those initial challenges once again in a very different time from the era I experienced them in. Or anyone else who is just starting in IP. For example, there is a trainee on my team who is just at the beginning of her career — she is about to become a certified patent attorney's assistant. Starting again in a role like that would be more challenging today than it was 30 years ago.
The focus was just the DPMA and the EPO when I started. Everything is now much more international, so you have to work in multiple languages, which is just the tip of the iceberg!
What is the most important trend you see in IP today?
This is easy: the digitalization of virtually all aspects of our profession. Everything is digital — wherever you go, whatever you see, whatever you read, whichever client you are working with. Without a computer, you cannot do much of anything in IP. For example, it is rare to receive a purely mechanical invention disclosure from a client. There are usually electronics involved, and more often than not, these are partially computer-implemented inventions.
Also, while this is not specifically a trend, it is worth noting that the competitive situation in the market is much fiercer than it has ever been.
What is your optimal career outside of the legal or IP profession?
I tackled a few renovation projects around the house not too long ago, which made me realize that I also like working with my hands, not only with my brain. Once I stop working in the IP field, I would honestly like to work with my hands, and that can take a lot of forms — carpentry, masonry, things like that. Although one exception is that while old cars intrigue me from time to time, spending hours tinkering away is not something on top of my list.
What is something people might be surprised to learn about you?
It has been said that I am quite a good dancer, not only in standard or Latin dance, but also more freestyle dancing. I was in a dancing club when I was younger and learned all sorts of styles, and I still love it. I like to move!
Understanding the utility patent vs. design patent distinction — and how these categories vary around the world — is vital to securing the right IP protection.