An Interview with Horace G. Dawson III, Red Lobster Seafood Company

AuthorDarrell G. Mottley
PositionDarrell G. Mottley is a shareholder of the intellectual property law firm of Banner & Witcoff, Ltd. He blends combinations of design patent, utility patent, trademark, and copyright intellectual property tools for creative, innovation-driven clients. He can be reached at and on Twitter @darrellmottley.
Published in Landslide® magazine, Volume 9, Number 4, a publication of the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law (ABA-IPL), ©2017 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This
information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
Horace Dawson is executive vice president and general coun-
sel of Red Lobster, the world’s largest seafood restaurant
company. In this role, Horace leads legal affairs and is also
responsible for international operations, communications,
government and community relations, and sustainability. Hor-
ace received his undergraduate, law, and masters of business
administration degrees from Harvard University.
You are a leader in corporate and intellectual property (IP) law.
As executive vice president and general counsel of Red Lobster,
please tell us about a typical day in your life at work.
One of the things I love about my job is that there is no
such thing as a typical day! For over two years, Red Lobster
has been owned by a private equity rm, Golden Gate Capital,
which was a change for us after being a part of a public For-
tune 500 company. We are now a much leaner organization
and are operating as if we’re a 48-year-old startup company.
We own and operate all of our more than 700 restaurants in the
United States and Canada. We also have 50 international res-
taurants that are franchised, so my international responsi
include meeting with current and potential franchisees.
Day to
day, I oversee the legal department, and while other lawyers in
the department handle most legal issues, I handle most of the
intellectual property issues with our trademark paralegal. In
addition, I have responsibility for the communications, interna-
tional, and government relations teams. I have regular strategy
meetings with members of the executive team and department
heads relating to one or more of my areas of responsibility.
Please tell us more about how your past positions at Darden
Restaurants, Hard Rock Cafe International, and the Telemundo
Network prepared you for your leadership role at Red Lobster.
I value my previous in-house experiences because they have
prepared me well to be a generalist. I started working with the
Telemundo Network at its inception, and I was the rst in-house
lawyer at Hard Rock Cafe. There is nothing like the excitement
of working for companies when they are small, new, successful,
and growing quickly. Both of these opportunities allowed me to
be involved in a wide range of legal and business matters, which
has helped to shape me into the leader I am today.
Specically, Hard Rock taught me the value of trademarks
and the importance of not only protecting how they are used
today, but also anticipating what they may grow into in the
future. For example, when I started at Hard Rock, the focus was
on food and beverage and merchandise, but over time the focus
shifted to hotels and gaming, including Internet gaming. In my
next career move to Darden Restaurants, I had the opportunity
to deepen my understanding of the role of intellectual property
in the restaurant industry, particularly as the brand portfolio
evolved. Red Lobster was the company’s original brand, but
Darden developed and acquired several more, including Olive
Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Seasons 52,
Yard House, Bahama Breeze, and Eddie V’s.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your posi-
tion at Red Lobster? And what is your favorite aspect of your
position at Red Lobster?
The most challenging aspect of my position is the need to
be able to address issues from different perspectives. At times
it almost feels as if I need to battle things out with myself,
as there can be some natural tension between the risk avoid-
ance that is a key element of the legal role and the premium on
“pushing the envelope” in some business roles. My previous
in-house roles have helped me hone the ability to craft busi-
ness-friendly solutions to problems with acceptable legal risk as
opposed to simply stating legal objections. The ability to con-
tribute on both a legal and business basis is not only the most
challenging aspect of my position, but also the most rewarding.
Could you give us a sense of how Red Lobster integrates its global
IP assets into the company’s business strategy?
To support Red Lobster’s vision to be “Where the World
Goes for Seafood, Now and for Generations,” we have a distinct
approach to franchise relationships, which fuels our international
growth. For American casual dining brands, the typical fran-
chise model asks franchisees to take the American brand “as it
is” domestically—same menu, same design, same service—and
operate it in a very specic way that replicates the brand exactly
in an international market. For some brands that approach cre-
ates challenges—it doesn’t account for local market nuances and
in fact sties brand adoption in the international market. So, Red
Lobster has done it differently, partly because seafood is a com-
plex business from a supply chain standpoint, but also because of
seafood’s versatility and broad global appeal.
We also offer iconic promotional events, such as Lobster-
fest® and Endless Shrimp®, along with iconic menu items, such
An Interview with
HoraceG. Dawson III
Executive Vice President, External Relations and
General Counsel, Red Lobster Seafood Company
By Darrell G. Mottley
Darrell G. Mottley is a shareholder of the intellectual property
law rm of Banner & Witcoff, Ltd. He blends combinations of design
patent, utility patent, trademark, and copyright intellectual property
tools for creative, innovation-driven clients. He can be reached at and on Twitter @darrellmottley.

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