International TV series like Suits, with its cult character Harvey Specter, have made the legal profession popular. As a student, Dr. Peter Stiefel also saw himself as an attorney in a large law firm. Today, he is the head of Daimler's intellectual property department. His day-to-day motivation? "I work for one of the most valuable brands in the world. What could be better?" In this interview, he gives some insight into investigative work and why lawyers should join a company like Daimler.
Hello Mr. Stiefel, could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Stiefel: I am 43 years old and I have been working for Daimler since 2008. I studied law in the classic way, taking the first and second State examinations (Staatsexamen). During my doctorate, I worked part-time in a small law firm and later moved to a large law firm in Stuttgart. That is also where I first had contact with Daimler, as we advised the group on legal issues such as product liability.
How did the move to Daimler come about?
In college, I always wanted to be the next Harvey Specter. Like probably every law student. (laughs) I also really enjoyed being an external lawyer advising various clients. That included large corporations and medium-sized companies. What I lacked in this consulting role, however, was decision-making competence, responsibility and internationality. Although I did work for international clients, I was applying German law in German courts, time and time again. At Daimler, it’s different; here, I actually work internationally, from China to the USA. I therefore decided to move to Daimler following the birth of my first daughter. It offered me the best work-life balance.
How has your career at Daimler developed?
I started as a team leader in the area of product safety law and compliance. In 2012, I then took over the area of brand protection, which was extremely exciting. Everyone knows that a Mercedes represents a high standard of safety. This makes it all the more important for us as a brand that no counterfeit spare parts are installed in workshops or sold on the Internet as alleged original parts. I’m talking here about fake airbags or brake disks, that is, car parts that can save lives in the event of an accident. Today, I - as General Counsel - am fully responsible for the area of Intellectual Property at Daimler Brand & IP Management GmbH & Co. KG. This is a 100% subsidiary of Daimler AG, which deals with intellectual property for the company.
How do you find workshops that sell counterfeit goods?
There are various methods, from the classic research and monitoring of product ranges online to real investigative work on site. We have colleagues worldwide, who work together with local authorities and assist them with raids.
Many lawyers choose to work for a law firm rather than for a corporate group. Why is that?
This may also be due to TV series such as Suits. They suggest that you make big deals in a law firm, earn a lot of money and travel internationally. But companies are in no way inferior to law firms in this respect; they score particularly highly for their internationality and diverse subject areas. We do very exciting legal work here. I have responsibility, not just with respect to the subject matter but, in particular, for my colleagues and staff members too.
You are responsible for Intellectual Property. What does all this include?
We are active in litigation on trademark rights, but also preventively when it comes to so-called third-party protection rights. We also take care of defense, when we are alleged to have infringed upon third-party rights. And we give advice on IP-related issues to our colleagues within the company worldwide. When you consider where and how, for example, our “Mercedes-Benz” brand is used, from workwear to sales to marketing, you can imagine that we don’t get bored. This doesn't even include the numerous patents, designs and copyrights that we also take care of. The nice and exciting thing about our work is that we are very close to the product. Every day, there is a sense that we are all working for a fantastic, innovative car manufacturer and mobility services provider.
Why did you choose Daimler as your employer?
What could be better than working for one of the world's most valuable brands? According to Interbrand, we are currently in 8th place globally with Mercedes-Benz, as the most valuable European brand. There aren’t many other companies in a similar position. Besides this, the industry is in the midst of change, which makes the job of a lawyer at Daimler so diverse. Previously, it was almost completely about classic patents for axles or gearboxes. But today we have other areas and competitors working on new technologies like autonomous driving, AI or networking. This makes our line of work extremely diverse and challenging. At Daimler, you have the opportunity to drive change and set the pace yourself.
Your division is seeking colleagues for a wide variety of positions. What should applicants bring with them?
We look for employees who do their jobs with passion. They should be pragmatic, decisive and, above all, motivated. Therefore, an affinity with our products and a certain broad vision are an advantage. We work closely with specialist departments like Technical Development and Quality Assurance and are connected with our colleagues worldwide. Therefore, good English is a fundamental requirement. Our day-to-day work is diverse and provides opportunities to drive change and develop yourself.