There’s an old saying that tells us it’s a curse to live in interesting times. For those who work in the technology space, there has never been a more interesting time, though that is far from a curse. A confluence of trends in the mobile device space, including global competition, open innovation and convergence, has created a complicated landscape when it comes to intellectual property.
According to Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel at Microsoft Corp.’s Innovation and Intellectual Property Group, this complexity helps explain the rise in litigation in the patent space. With a number of international players in countries like China, Korea and Taiwan attempting to differentiate their devices with specific features, patents hold more value than ever. These devices, which include technology ranging from voice and video recorders to GPS devices to telephones and more, might include thousands of different patents, so the likelihood of litigation has increased.
But Gutierrez is quick to point out that patents spur innovation. “Because we live in a highly competitive market, each company in the industry is trying to come up with products that have special appeal to consumers,” he says. He cites the Microsoft Surface tablet as a device that can move back and forth from content consumption to content creation, running familiar Office software, for example, to allow for business collaboration on an easily portable device. These innovations require patents to protect them and allow Microsoft to create that competitive advantage it seeks.
“In a world in which differentiation is so important to the success of a company, it is an important business strategy to obtain the rights you need for the innovation that results from your investment in research and development,” Gutierrez explains. Patents are valuable business assets because they protect Microsoft products from threats of disruption by third parties. He stresses the fact that intellectual property is an asset that cannot be divorced from business strategy. It’s no longer an issue just for technical experts, but should be part of long-term product and business strategies.
They key for a general counsel, according to Gutierrez, is to realize that IP cannot be ignored. “It is a part of every major decision that a company needs to make today. In research, acquisition and litigation, the significant role of IP needs to be taken into account.” Though litigation is a part of life in the high-tech space, it is not the only concern of the general counsel. GCs should be aware of international IP law, as countries such as China have become more and more important in this area in recent years.
And, while the United States considers possible patent reform, Microsoft has joined forces with companies like Ford and DuPont to create Partnership for American Innovation, which promotes the idea that patents are a vital part of the U.S. economy now and in the future. That concept of innovation is a thread that is held by many chief IP officers, and is part of the foundation of the American spirit.