EXCLUSIVE - Apple chief patent lawyer leaving - sources

SAN FRANCISCO Wed Jul 13, 2011 3:46am IST

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An Apple Store sales associate helps a man with an iPhone at the Apple store in New York May 23, 2011.

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple Inc's chief patent counsel will soon leave the company, at a time when the iPhone maker is fighting numerous legal battles around the world, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Richard "Chip" Lutton Jr., who manages Apple's patent portfolio, recently hit his 10-year mark at the company and decided it was time to try something else, according to a source familiar with Lutton's thinking.

An Apple representative declined to comment. Apple shares closed down 25 cents at $353.75 on Tuesday, paring losses after falling to a low of $348.62 earlier in the morning in a market that was broadly lower on Europe's fiscal woes.

Apple is engaged in an expanding web of litigation concerning smartphone patents, mostly with phonemakers using Google Inc's rival Android software.

BJ Watrous, a former deputy general counsel with Hewlett Packard, is now listed as Apple's chief intellectual property counsel on Watrous's LinkedIn Web page.

Legal battles have become common in the cellphone industry since Google brought out its free Android operating system, grabbing a big chunk of the lucrative and fast-growing smartphone market.

Android has become the world's No. 1 mobile software platform this year.

Apple's intellectual property team has been on a hiring spree lately, snapping up litigation specialist Noreen Krall from Sun Microsystems. She leads Apple's litigation team, which regularly works with lawyers in the IP unit, a source familiar with the process said.

Many continuing legal fights include software patents and can be seen as indirect attacks against Google's Android, but Apple is also attacking Samsung Electronics, accusing the company of copying its design.

BATTLES

Last month, Apple joined with Microsoft Corp, Blackberry maker Research In Motion Ltd and three other tech companies to outbid Google in a $4.5 billion deal to acquire a huge portfolio of 6,000 technology patents from failed telecoms group Nortel Networks.

Last week, Apple filed a second patent complaint against fast-growing rival HTC, a Taiwanese smartphone maker, with a U.S. trade panel.

"I believe Apple's leadership wants to see results now, especially in connection with Google's Android system," said Germany-based intellectual property analyst and blogger Florian Mueller. "The second complaint against HTC shows that Apple feels it did not handle its patent litigation perfectly in the past."

Last month, Apple lost a major legal battle against Nokia, agreeing to pay royalties and an undisclosed lump sum to the Finnish cellphone maker.

But Apple and Samsung are also battling over patents in courts around the world, despite the fact that Samsung is one of Apple's key suppliers.

Lutton will be leaving Apple soon, perhaps in the next month, said a source familiar with the situation.

Lutton, a former clerk for Chief Judge Randall Rader of the Federal U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is well known in IP circles. He was among those once mentioned as a possible nominee for the Federal Circuit, which hears patent appeals.

Watrous was deputy general counsel at Hewlett-Packard in charge of IP licensing. He started at the company as an IP litigator, and successfully made the transition to manage an IP portfolio, said Mallun Yen, a former deputy general counsel at Cisco.

"He seems to not only have risen very quickly but also learned very quickly," said Yen, who is now executive vice president at RPX Corp.

An HP spokesman declined to comment.

(Writing by Tarmo Virki in Helsinki, Editing by Greg Mahlich, David Hulmes and John Wallace)

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