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Douglas Taylor doesn’t spend much time in the kitchen, but he’s easily distracted at the grocery store. The 45-year-old lawyer is chief patent counsel at General Mills Inc. The 147-year-old Minneapolis company makes many of the products found on supermarket shelves, including Cheerios, Wheaties, Bisquick, Lucky Charms, Yoplait yogurt and Betty Crocker dessert mixes. Taylor says that whenever he visits the supermarket, “I look at new products and wonder, ‘Gee, is this a category General Mills should be in?’” General Mills holds more than 1,500 patents, and many of them were issued during Taylor’s five-year tenure. Before Taylor came to the company, General Mills’ IP strategy was focused on trade secrets. But when the company started doing joint ventures with food-makers like Frito-Lay and Nestle, General Mills became concerned that keeping IP as trade secrets was no longer the appropriate strategy. The company wanted someone with a strong patent background, and found Taylor. He had been working at Eli Lilly and Co. since receiving his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1979. Taylor started out in Lilly’s Terre Haute, Ind., plant as a chemical engineer. He even tried — unsuccessfully — to patent some of his work. Taylor had been thinking about becoming a lawyer since he was an undergraduate. So when his wife’s promotion moved him to Indianapolis, he enrolled in law school at Indiana University and attended at night. Halfway through law school, one of Lilly’s in-house patent attorneys retired. Even though he wasn’t a lawyer yet, Taylor got the job. Technically, he worked only as a patent agent until he received his degree in 1988. He eventually joined the pharmaceutical company’s licensing team. In 1998, Taylor took a call from a headhunter, who told him about a new opening at General Mills. “I’m a Midwestern boy, and a chief patent counsel job in the Midwest was one I needed to take a look at,” Taylor says. As soon as he came on board, Taylor helped streamline General Mills’ patenting process, making it easier for scientists to submit patent applications. The company increased the patent budget in order to hire more outside counsel and to expand the in-house department from two patent counsel to five. Taylor also started thinking about licensing its technology to others. “We’re still feeling our way, trying to move from a patent to an intellectual-capital management basis,” he says. He predicts that efforts will involve “a lot of cold-calling to find out which industries would be suitable for our technology. And a lot of dog-and-pony shows.” Taylor has even listed some of General Mills’ technology on www.yet2.com, a licensing marketplace. Taylor isn’t convinced he needs to go outside for help selling General Mills’ IP. “I can handle the legal end of those transactions and don’t think it takes any particular expertise,” he says. But he would like help in valuing General Mills’ technology, and is interested in consulting firms with contacts in different industries. “I know what other food companies might be interested in, but there might be something else not immediately available to me.” General Mills’ patents cover food formulation, and computer software and business methods — particularly those connected with consumer testing. Some of the most important patents involve packaging. The company prosecutes many patents in-house, occasionally turning to local Minneapolis firms like Faegre & Benson; Dicke, Billig & Czaja, and Stillwater, Minn.’s Kagan Binder. Dealing with outside counsel has been a challenge for Taylor, who has never worked at a firm. “I think it would have been helpful to have had some outside-counsel experience, to learn how to use them more efficiently,” he says. “To some extent I’ve overcome that handicap by trial and error, not the most efficient way, but a way that works for me.”

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