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Richard T. Kneeland: Allegro MicroSystems LLC
Acting as the first line of legal advice for any company is a challenging job, especially when that company is a global high-tech manufacturer with subsidiaries all over the world and hundreds of patented products, such as Allegro MicroSystems LLC. Allegro reaches far corners of the globe with its innovative, high-performance semiconductor technology. The business manufactures Hall-effect sensor ICs and system-on-chip power ICs, including multiple power drivers, regulators and control logic functions manufactured on the company’s proprietary wafer process technology that allows the merging of dense digital circuitry with analog structures.
Based in Worcester, Massachusetts, Allegro’s leading integrated circuit solutions focus on motor control, regulation and magnetic field sensing and are essential to the automotive market, as well as office automation, industrial, energy and broadband communications. “Allegro is known for innovative technology in the semiconductor-high-tech world,” says Richard T. Kneeland, general counsel for Allegro. “Many of our customers are tier-two automotive companies that supply larger units for the larger, well-known tier-one manufacturers. Customers look to Allegro for the most innovative solutions.”
These solutions include hundreds of patents acquired by Allegro over the last 26 years in business. The company has been recognized numerous times for its entrepreneurial vision and desire to lead the high-tech market. “We have a patent wall at our Worcester and Manchester, New Hampshire, facilities where we display a significant number of patents that we’ve acquired over the years; it’s a tremendous source of pride for Allegro,” shares Kneeland.
Back to school
Kneeland, who joined the company back when it was Sprague Electric, has been with Allegro for nearly the entire ride. “I started out at a tech school and came to work for Sprague Electric in 1972,” he recounts. “I started as a technician on the wafer fabrication line but also spent time working in test equipment construction, device engineering, operations, advertising, and eventually in the marketing department.”
At 44, Kneeland decided to take a different path and he started law school. “After being in the company my entire career and working in different departments, I decided law was what I wanted to pursue next,” he says.
Kneeland received a scholarship to attend Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he concentrated in corporate law, graduating with the distinction of receiving an award for “outstanding law student.”
In 2001 Kneeland won a national negotiation championship for his law school. “Having worked in so many departments at Allegro, I felt that marrying my prior experience at Allegro with my law degree would be beneficial to the company and I started working for the company’s general counsel right after I graduated in 2001,” he says.
Kneeland steadily moved up the ladder, working his way up from counsel to associate general counsel, and finally to general counsel and vice president. He’s been in this leadership role for the last nine years.
Diverse day-to-day challenges
Kneeland compares his role at Allegro to that of a primary care physician. “I’m the first line of legal advice on any sort of legal matter to the corporation,” says Kneeland. “My job is to sort out and decide the best solution to legal challenges and just like a primary care physician, if I don’t have the knowledge or expertise, then I turn to a specialist or outside counsel.”
One thing is for certain in Kneeland’s line of work: there’s no set day-to-day job description. On any given day, he could be working on legal issues involving intellectual property (IP), corporate governance for the company’s many subsidiaries, communicating with the company’s senior staff and board of directors, strategic partnerships and business joint ventures, employment laws, trade matters and much more. “I work with a myriad of things,” he says.
Being a multinational firm with patents in numerous countries, Kneeland says he quickly realized the old saying “no lawyer knows every law,” holds true. “It’s not what you know, it’s what you don’t know,” says Kneeland. “This is why we rely on strong relationships with local counsel for guidance.
“Lately, we’ve been involved in an acquisition, joint venture and partnerships around the world,” continues Kneeland. “We have 10 subsidiaries around the world — all the way from England to Thailand, China to Argentina to the Philippines and beyond — and you can be sure the patent laws and many other laws in these countries vary considerably. We’ve developed good relationships with local counsel in each jurisdiction, with firms such as Baker & Mackenzie, Ropes & Gray, Daly Crowley Mofford & Durkee, Morgan Lewis and others who provide assistance when we need specialized advice.”
With hundreds of patents worldwide, IP is a huge activity for Allegro and Kneeland’s general counsel team. “We rely heavily on our tremendous engineering talent to invent new and leading-edge technologies and products,” explains Kneeland. “We work with another associate firm to help us file patents and make sure they’re as protective as they can be. A lot of technical writing goes into this process, which requires the contributions of many people.”
With so many different daily tasks to juggle, Kneeland says he’s always learning something new and this is why he prefers the challenges of corporate counsel. “You have to have a broad understanding of so many laws and how they apply to your company’s activities and initiatives, but beyond this I touch on so many other areas,” he says. “I learn something new every day.”
Kneeland says it’s his job to stay abreast with what’s happening in the industry. “The high-tech world is an ever-changing landscape, requiring legal acuity, especially when you’re a global firm like Allegro,” he says. As the market changes and Allegro MicroSystems continues to drive innovation, Kneeland remains a crucial part of the company’s structure as the first line of legal advice.