Mauri Aven – Kyocera AVX Components Corp.
What capacitors do is pretty complex, especially given the components’ dimensions are often less than half a millimeter. Suffice it to say, they store electrical energy in an electric field in a microchip—which means they’re found in a lot of devices.
“Anything with a chip in it will have a capacitor,” Mauri Aven says.
As general counsel and assistant corporate secretary for Kyocera AVX Components Corp., she knows a great deal about how to protect the intellectual properties that go into making capacitors.
Kyocera AVX makes nine types of capacitors, and because they’re made throughout the world, patenting and protecting the technology can be even more complex, especially as the company enters joint development agreements.
Aven has been tasked with IP protection since joining AVX in October 2016 (AVX was acquired by Kyocera in 2020), but her responsibilities have also expanded to leading a global legal team and supporting M&A and business negotiations. She’s also been providing the legal support needed to build a 1.2 million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Thailand during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m passionate about IP strategy because proprietary technology distinguishes our products from those of competitors and helps to drive profit margins,” Aven says “I enjoy partnering with the business because protecting and leveraging our core technology works best when marketing, R&D and legal are working collaboratively,”
In addition to capacitors, Kyocera AVX also produces antennas, diodes, sensors and controls, and fuses, among other components. Its products and components are used in the Internet of Things and industries including aerospace and defense, automotive, consumer electronics and health care.
Aven is based at the Kyocera AVX facility in Greenville County, South Carolina, but her work takes her across continents as she adds to her legal team and helps expand operations.
For instance, Kyocera AVX’s new $300 million facility making ceramic and tantalum capacitors in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, celebrated its grand opening in November 2022.
Aven and her team worked with David Martinelli, the corporate director for site development, supporting his team on choosing the site, hiring the designers and architects, and negotiating and managing the construction agreements.
Even without a pandemic, it would have been a complex undertaking—Aven says the law firm of Tilleke & Gibbins provided invaluable outside counsel in everything from procuring the land to advising on the environmental, employment and labor laws the company needs to comply with.
Construction became even more complicated because Thailand had closed its borders during the height of the pandemic, so Aven and other leaders relied on photos from drones to show how work was progressing.
“That was a creative solution for how to do business in troubled times,” Aven says. “We built a 1 million-square-foot facility on time and on budget during the pandemic.”
Providing crucial counsel
Aven is also enjoying a greater role in M&A, such as working with Rick Johnson, the vice president of corporate development and managing the legal details on Kyocera AVX’s 2022 acquisition of the tantalum and polymer business assets from ROHM Semiconductor. The acquisition allows Kyocera AVX to expand its portfolio with additional tantalum and polymer capacitor manufacturing capacity—at the new facility in Thailand. Aven and Johnson collaborated on a creative asset deal structure that enabled the deal to move forward.
Her legal team is growing, too, as Aven recently hired legal counsel for contracts in the U.S. and an attorney working in Germany. She was looking to fill a position in Thailand to support operations in Asia as she chatted with Vanguard in March. She also works with an extensive network of outside counsel that provides expertise and guidance on local regulatory issues as well as labor and employment laws.
While IP is a focus for her team, supply chain issues continue, too. China’s pandemic lockdown starting in 2020 created some materials shortages and business challenges and underscored the importance of negotiating contracts with strong force majeure clauses and the ability to adjust prices due to unforeseen events, Aven says.
She says choosing how Kyocera AVX enforces its patent and IP protections is complicated by the multi-national operations where components are started in one country, shipped to a second country for finishing and then to a third country for distribution. Customers then sell products with the components in third or fourth countries.
“Analyzing competitor locations, volumes, and IP laws in various countries means one can craft effective and efficient strategies for procuring and enforcing patents. That’s what makes the job fun,” she says. “You have to take the legal landscape in consideration when you craft IP strategy.”
The business of technology
Aven, who grew up northwest of Pittsburgh in New Castle, Pennsylvania, always enjoyed studying science and technology. While earning her bachelor’s degree in physics from Hiram College in Ohio, she served an internship with the U.S. Department of Energy and realized how much she enjoyed the business side of technology.
Aven opted to get her J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1998 and worked in private practice after graduating. In June 2006, she took on a quasi-in-house role as an attorney in the firm of Greenberg Traurig working at the Alcoa Technical Center in New Kensington, Pennsylvania.
In October 2016, Aven joined AVX as deputy general counsel. She was promoted to her current role in March 2022.
“I’m excited to continue to lead and build a legal team that works collaboratively with other teams,” Aven says. “It takes more than legal skills to make a general counsel effective. What makes a great general counsel is understanding the business and contributing to the company’s growth.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring III 2023 Edition here.
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