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The Passing of a Pioneer in the Tech Standards Industry: Reflecting on the Legacy of Tim Haslach (1961-2016)

July 25, 2016


The poignant outpouring of grief and remembrance in reaction to Tim Haslach’s passing demonstrates the depth of his impact on family and countless friends, for reasons far broader than just his professional life. But in his professional role, Tim Haslach spent more than 20 years at Schwabe as a business attorney and partner for his clients. He served as the General Counsel for more than 50 international technology standards organizations during his career, which have been responsible for defining how billions of devices work and interoperate. The work he did is similar to helping founders form over 50 successful tech startups, but Tim worked to set up organizations whose founders were the largest technology corporations in the world. Structuring and representing standards organizations involves as much lore as law, though. It was ‎decades of experience as well as substantial legal ‎and personal skills that allowed Tim to give the kind of business, as well as legal, advice that helped his ‎clients become established, and then later to flourish. His passing leaves a void that cannot soon be filled.

Tim’s significant impact on the technology community

Tim made world-changing contributions to global technology standards-setting, ultimately touching much of the technology we use every day. Among the successful organizations that he represented are PCI SIG, Digital Living Network Alliance, HDMI Forum and Open Connectivity Foundation.  These well-known standards defined the next generation of computers, networking, televisions and connected appliances. Interoperability standards are often invisible to consumers, but they are the glue that enables technology ecosystems to function. A phone connecting to a cell tower or a WiFi network, a browser rendering a web page, a PC plugging in to a monitor, two chips communicating on a circuit board – these and countless other technical functions are facilitated by interoperability standards. Information technology devices like laptops or phones embody hundreds of standards. As our world becomes increasingly connected, interoperability standards grow only more important.

Today many hundreds of consortia exist, based on private sector led collaborations, targeting a broad range of technologies. Tim was a pioneer in the development of the consortia model for standards. Consortia represent a flexible, dynamic, market-oriented approach to standards-setting, and they play a fundamental role in enabling the functioning of virtually all modern information technology products. Along with a tiny handful of other attorneys, Tim engaged in groundbreaking, highly innovative lawyering, developing a set of legal frameworks that have become templates for consortia creation and for private sector-led standards compliance testing. Over the years he honed and refined these models, launching dozens of organizations, ultimately enabling product interoperability that created and enhanced huge technology markets and made consumer products substantially better.

Standards are fundamentally important to modern technology, and thus to modern society. Consortia are the primary mechanism for creating and ‘policing’ technology standards. Tim was a principal leader in creating the legal infrastructure that defines consortia and enables them to work. This is a very big deal. If the standards community had a hall of fame, Tim would deserve a prominent place in it.

Bringing people together to build consensus

For an international technology standard to be successful, multi-national companies, represented by individuals, must come together to agree upon a common mission and a common framework.  Once a mission and the rules for working together are in place, engineers and marketing professionals work together to define a specification for a much need area of technology development, one that requires a common specification to ensure devices can talk to each other, provide common security or otherwise meet the common needs of an industry. Tim was extremely good at counseling people who were gathered together to work together. He possessed the personality traits and professional skills that made him very effective in helping these fierce competitors come together for a common goal. 

Creating a law practice and setting the bar around partnering with technology standards organizations

While many thousands of technical staff participate in standards development every year, only a ‎modest number of attorneys have the opportunity to become involved in any meaningful way with that ‎process. And of that small number, you could count on one hand all of the attorneys that ‎have helped set up a meaningful number of standard setting consortia. Tim was one of the few "go to" ‎lawyers that the largest technology companies in the world turned to when they wanted to set up a new ‎standards organization that was critical to their strategic plans. 

In January of 2010, Tim was one of the thought leaders, key speakers and sponsors of the first ever Standards and Consortia Roundtable held at Arizona State University.  Of course, Tim knew everyone at the conference and had been personally responsible for inviting many of them.  What came out of this event was a scholarly publication that attempted to define this unique field of the law, truly one that we can say Tim led the way in defining.

Tim pioneered a new law practice, one in which he created professional standards for how to represent these non-profit standards organizations, guiding them through all of their intellectual property, governance, anti-competition, testing, tax and a myriad of other issues.  He set the bar on how to usher these groups from incorporation to combinations and even to winding down.  Tim’s impact on the group of attorneys, both in-house and at law firms, who were trained or influenced by him is palpable.

A leader and a mentor

There are so many who have ‎said over the years that Tim ‎was the one that taught them how to work in the standards ‎space.  Often times, those leading standards ‎organizations are also first-time board members, and Tim ‎was helping and teaching technical ‎professionals how to make corporate decisions ‎and run organizations as a Board.  One of the most ‎striking things said over the past few ‎days by a manager at one of the standards groups was ‎that even though she felt she ‎was the least important person in the group, that Tim always took the time ‎to work with her - ‎explaining, teaching, and helping - and always treated her with the same dignity and ‎respect with which he treated the ‎most important person in the room. ‎

We all owe Tim an enormous debt and his legacy will no doubt live on through all the standards that continue to improve our quality of life, through the innovation in the legal profession and through all the lives that Tim touched. The legal and standards communities have lost a grand personality and a brilliant thinker. Tim will be missed.

This tribute to Tim Haslach was developed collaboratively by three Attorneys that wished to share their remembrances of Tim and to chronicle some of what Tim has meant to the Technology Industry and Legal Profession. Written by Arnold Brown, Brad Biddle, and Andy Updegrove.