[This story is running in the print edition of The Seattle Times Aug. 20, 2012.]
Forget that his face adorns lunchboxes. Darth Vader is supposed to be menacing.
But when Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft’s deputy counsel of intellectual property and licensing, dressed up as the ominous Star Wars Sith Lord one Halloween? Not so much.
“I’ve never seen a happier Darth Vader,” said Gutierrez’s boss, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith.
In some ways that image captures perceptions of Microsoft in the patent battles now raging among tech companies — and Gutierrez’s role in them.
Microsoft has signed a number of licensing agreements with — or filed lawsuits against — companies it says infringe on its patents, most notably manufacturers of Android devices.
To some, Microsoft is a menace that wields its power to extract sizable royalty payments on Android devices even as its own Windows mobile devices flounder. In that view, Microsoft uses patents as a cash cow rather than a way to protect inventions.
To others, Microsoft leads the way in how intellectual-property disputes should be settled, with a preference for licensing over litigation and an eye toward fair settlements — while protecting its vast investment in research and development over the years.
Gutierrez, too, embodies those dual perceptions.
In his role heading the company’s patent, trademark and copyright work, the 47-year-old attorney is in a position to stare down some of the largest technology companies in the world. The work he and his team produce makes headlines, from broad agreements with Samsung to battles with Motorola in courtrooms worldwide. The consequences can be sweeping, from billion-dollar deals to import bans on products.
But within Microsoft, Gutierrez is known as much for his good humor as for his legal acumen.
The patent arena is “filled with conflict, disagreements and complicated technologies. A little humor goes a long way,” said David Kaefer, general manager of intellectual-property licensing, who works for Gutierrez.
[Continue reading the story here.]