Apple's top patent lawyer leaving would mean trouble

Apple’s patent push could become even more aggressive if rumours that its chief patent lawyer is leaving are to be believed.

According to a top business strategist, talking on condition of anonymity, other lawyers trying to fill their predecessors’ boots will recommend heavy-handed tactics for Apple. 

The warnings come as the rumour mill whispered that Richard “Chip” Lutton Junior, who manages the company’s patent portfolio, is leaving.

Although sources are unable to say why Lutton is leaving the company, they told the Chicago Tribune his departure could be as early as this month.

BJ Watrous, former deputy general counsel with Hewlett Packard, is now listed as Apple’s chief IP counsel on Watrous’s LinkedIn web page.

If the rumours are to be believed then there could be trouble ahead for Apple as well as anyone who gets in its way.

Our market watcher tells TechEye: “While patent lawyers in a company are all mainly as capable as the other, there is of course the one which excels above the rest. This is the one Apple, with its influence and money, would have been assigned to, if not demanded.

“There are a few problems surrounding this. Firstly, although other lawyers would have been in on meetings, the head lawyer so to speak would have been the brains. By losing him, Apple is facing a weakness. It’s a case of Samson cutting off his hair.

“Yes, others will be able to drive the campaign but the strategy may be affected with lawyers each trying to put forward ideas to prove themselves better than their predecessor. It could lead to competition within the business or far more ruthless tactics by Apple against those it wants to sue in the future. “

Florian Mueller, an IP expert also shared some of the concerns, telling TechEye: “Apple can’t afford to lose any of its patent litigation power. On the contrary, Apple has been on a legal hiring spree especially with a focus on patents for some time. The new chief patent counsel now has a whole lot of patent lawsuits on his plate and may be expected to start some more.”

Apple has also been on a suing spree of late, with its spats with Samsung and Google dominating headlines.

Last month, it got all buddy, buddy with Microsoft and RIM amongst others to outbid Google in a $4.5 billion deal to acquire the technology patents from Nortel. The deal has been approved.

Last week, it went on the defensive and filed a second patent complaint against  HTC

However, while most of the suing and froing involves patents, there have also been arguments about lawyers.

Earlier today Florian Mueller, points out that Samsung wanted some, or potentially all of Apple’s external lawyers disqualified over alleged conflict of interest

“Samsung has asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to disqualify at least some or potentially even all of Apple’s outside lawyers from the case, citing concerns over a conflict of interest and the treatment of privileged and confidential information gathered in the past,” he said.

Samsung is grumbling that it wants the newly founded law firm Bridges & Mavrakakis barred from the case, because at least five of its lawyers represented Samsung while they were with another firm, Kirkland & Ellis.

It also said Apple’s two other law firms, involved in a federal lawsuit (Morrison & Foerster and Wilmer Hale), must “provide affidavits confirming they have not received any Samsung confidential information from attorneys at Bridges & Mavrakakis” while those firms were coordinating Apple’s representation.