Richard Lutton Junior, Apple Chief Patent Lawyer, Reportedly To Leave The Company

By Dan Levine and Poornima Gupta

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 a source familiar with the situation.

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

It was unclear why Richard "Chip" Lutton Junior, who manages the iPhone maker's patent portfolio, is leaving the company.

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

Legal battles have become common in the cellphone industry since Google entered the market with 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.

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


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 some 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 struggling Finnish cellphone maker.

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

Lutton did not respond to requests for comment, and an Apple representative declined to comment.

Lutton's voicemail was still set up at Apple on Monday, but he will be leaving Apple soon, perhaps in the next month, said the source familiar with the situation.

Watrous was deputy general counsel at Hewlett-Packard in charge of IP licensing. An HP spokesman declined to comment.

Apple's intellectual property team has been on a hiring spree lately, snapping up litigation specialist Noreen Krall from Sun Microsystems.

(Writing by Tarmo Virki in Helsinki, Editing by Edwin Chan, Greg Mahlich and David Hulmes)
Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions