Erika Singleton – Entegris
The semiconductor industry is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2030 with Entegris standing to reap more benefits as a supplier of the sophisticated materials necessary to support electronic equipment and devices.
All the more reason for this Massachusetts-headquartered multinational to protect its intellectual properties, says Erika Singleton, whose vigilance on that front Entegris retained after acquiring her former employer, CMC Materials Inc., for $5.7 billion in July 2022.
As CMC’s chief IP counsel and associate general counsel, Singleton was responsible for the worldwide capture, protection and commercialization of its IP. She successfully strategized her expertise in the company’s pivotal International Trade Commission case against DuPont de Nemours Inc., the Delaware-based chemical giant. The ITC sided with CMC, ruling in December 2021 that DuPont unlawfully imported, marketed and sold in the United States slurries and components that infringed a CMC patent.
The ITC issued temporary exclusion and cease-and-desist orders prohibiting DuPont’s importation, marketing and sale of such products, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection followed with similar orders extending to 2035—when CMC’s patent expires.
Similar IP issues are only likely to keep rising, with the high-stakes, high-rewards nature of the semiconductor industry. As Singleton emphasizes, managing innovation, safeguarding patents, trade secrets and trademarks has got to be everybody’s concern at Entegris, and she’s ascertaining that it is.
“We’re making sure our community has an IP knowledge base because if everyone has a fundamental understanding, they can be more productive,” Singleton tells Vanguard in June from her New Orleans area home where she works remotely. “It makes my job easier because if they are able to navigate the basics, it frees me up for bigger more strategic issues.”
Entegris noting how she initiated effective IP education and training sessions at CMC, the company has welcomed her doing the same under the new banner while upgrading her position to vice president and global chief IP counsel. Her virtual sessions allow for 24/7 access with a dedicated monthly curriculum and video review in which her team fields questions from innovators, HR and sales and marketing employees.
For maximum effectiveness, she aligns her IP strategy with the business department’s goals—there being so many synergies to harness. The company’s got to broadly innovate and leverage its products and product lines, which may be in different areas of the value stream but can be packaged together. She’s also constantly evaluating how resources are spent, mindful of costs and ensuring that the company’s investments are vindicated.
“Maintaining IP is expensive to the company but if we are going to make this type of investment, we want it to be worthwhile,” Singleton says. “Our assets should bring value back whether it’s an advantage in a product or manufacturing area.”
And if she feels some company is infringing, Singleton takes the issue under serious advisement. But while she considers litigation her strong suit, she notes how costly and time-consuming court proceedings can be. How much more efficient she says it is to preempt the need to sue, and that can be done through prudent patenting and building relationships with third parties.
“Your portfolio must be strategic, sound and strong,” she says. “Anything outside of that is waste and you want to focus on your core and what will stand up to any threat to the portfolio.”
From lab to law
There was a time when Singleton might have immersed in this industry from a more hands-on role. A 1996 chemical engineering graduate at Tuskegee University, she garnered much practical experience at a young age, interning at Shell Offshore and doing pressure analyses at rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Then came internships at 3M, the original Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company where chemical engineering acumen is also highly prized.
While Singleton contributed to innovations on personal care products and polymer research, lab life lost its allure but not its means for her to advance. After graduating from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1999, Singleton leveraged her scientific background in passing the exam to be a patent attorney.
After a couple years as an associate in a large New Orleans firm, she moved in-house, becoming a patent counsel at ExxonMobil. Still, she was just one of 600 company lawyers and, like so many of her colleagues, felt pigeonholed.
“Everyone had a distinct role, and it was hard to build a bucket list,” she says. “At a company like that, you’re either pegged early for leadership or you have to come in at a senior level.”
Singleton found more fulfillment in subsequent in-house roles with Pfizer Inc. and Honeywell-Specialty Materials, both in the New York/New Jersey area, before joining CMC in Chicago in 2016. That, of course, led to her present and more far-reaching role.
“It’s been quite a whirlwind, this past year,” she says as her first anniversary at Entegris approaches. “It’s a much bigger role with my former company now a division of Entegris and me having leadership responsibility for the entire company.”
And not just on IP—at Entegris, all lawyers play a role in partnering with the business and strategy. It’s sound business sense, Singleton says, noting how essential semiconductors are to almost everything electronic and Entegris supplies innovative value along various spaces in the industry. Entegris also is assembling a new manufacturing plant in Colorado Springs.
From multiple fronts, the pressure may be on Singleton, but she says it beats being a faceless lawyer on other corporate staffs. Her IP defense won’t rest and she’d advise young people to also pursue a STEM education with an eye to innovation and solving problems.
“Chemical engineering gave me a platform for the critical thinking that’s so important to this position,” she says. “It helped to come from a family of educators where excellence was the expectation.”
She’s living up to her parents’ expectations and expects much from her 14-year-old daughter and “bonus sons” ages 17 and 14.
“It’s exciting, this house of high schoolers,” she says with a laugh. “I have to travel just to reset.”
Turkey, Greece and Martha’s Vineyard are on her summer itinerary, but at the end of each trip, it’s intense business as usual.
“The semiconductor industry is growing, it’s exciting to be at the forefront,” Singleton says. “We’re bringing extreme value not just to shareholders and employees, but the world as a whole.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer IV 2023 Edition here.
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