Apple may very well be in the throes of the most litigious period in company history.
As Apple emerged from the brink of bankruptcy in the late 90s to become one of the leading consumer electronic companies in the world, it’s bank account ballooned into the billions and the company increasingly became the target for litigation from patent trolls and companies with genuine legal cases.
At the same time, Apple has taken stronger steps to protect its own patent portfolio, evidenced by a number of high profile cases Apple is currently litigating against companies that use Google’s Android OS, for example.
And just last month, Apple finally settled a multi-layered litigation battle with Nokia that saw the Cupertino-based company acquiesce to Nokia demands and agree to pay Nokia royalties for each iPhone sold in addition to a lump sum payment encompassing back royalties for previously sold iPhones.
Needless to say, patent litigation is serious business and can fundamentally affect a company’s bottom line. So having a strong legal team that can navigate through the intricacies of patent litigation is absolutely crucial in today’s tech landscape.
And now comes word via Reuters that Apple’s patent portfolio manager, Richard “Chip” Lutton Jr., will be leaving the company. Taking his place is B.J. Watrous, who formerly worked as deputy general counsel at Hewlett Packard.
As to why Lutton is leaving, and to where, isn’t yet known, but Lutton leaves at at time when Apple is defending its patent portfolio with unprecedented vigor. Apple is of course still engaged in a legal battle with HTC over alleged patent infringement while it’s also going hard at Samsung for allegedly copying the look and feel of its software and hardware. And then of course there’s pending litigation with Kodak, Lodsys, and Motorola, just to name a few.
And looking to beef up its already strong patent portfolio, remember that Apple recently was part of a consortium that delivered the winning $4.5 billion bid for Nortel’s massive 6,000+ patent portfolio where Apple is rumored to have contributed $2 billion for licenses to the patents along with “outright ownership” of Nortel’s LTE related patents.As of Monday, the report notes that Lutton’s voicemail was still operational so it remains unclear when he will officially be leaving his role at Apple, though a source told Reuters it will likely be before the end of August. And as Apple’s chief patent counsel, Lutton played an integral role in many of Apple’s most recent legal disputes, himself writing some of the filings Apple has used in its ongoing dispute with Samsung.
Lastly, the report relays that Apple IP group has been “on a hiring spree lately, snapping up litigation specialist Noreen Krall from Sun Microsystems.”