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Microsoft's Linux Inquisitor Grand Master is off to Spotify

An IP era really over. No, really. Well, things will be different. Sort of. Perhaps

Linux and Android device makers can breath a little easier: their IP bête noir has left Microsoft.

The lawyer running Microsoft’s intellectual property inquisition, Horacio Gutierrez, has left after 18 years. He’s jumped to streaming service Spotify.

Gutierrez joined Microsoft in 1998 but ran the company’s LCA innovation and intellectual property group between 2006 and 2014.

He was in charge of Microsoft’s legal team on global patents, copyrights, trademarks, licensing, standards and regulatory compliance.

He ascended at a time when Microsoft’s battle with Linux was at its most pronounced and when relations with open-sourcers were at their most bitter. Microsoft’s ex-chief executive Steve Ballmer had just branded Linux “a cancer” and claimed Linux violated 228 – unidentified – software patents.

What followed was a program of Microsoft knocking on the door of makers of Linux devices and then Android and Chrome machines across the world, over claimed violations of its patents and IP in their devices.

Microsoft struck first against GPS device maker TomTom in 2008 and, also – strangely – Salesforce in 2010. It got more than it bargained for as both counter-sued and forced Microsoft to settle on more favourable terms. Others were less ballsy, deciding it was cheaper to sign a deal than wage a long war: Acer, HTC, Sonic, Samsung, Compal Electronics.

What they put their names to were patent licensing deals with an agreement that royalties would paid Microsoft per device over X years.

The magic part was Microsoft never even said in an open forum what patents or IP had been trampled. The terms of the resulting settlement were not revealed either.

What the world did receive, however, was a Microsoft press release announcing each and every deal with Gutierrez’s name firmly stapled to a boiler-plate statement that varied a little but generally hit the same talking points: namely, how Microsoft’s patent portfolio was the result of decades of innovation, there was a need to respect IP rights and how this particular agreement had been a victory for the cause of industry leaders addressing intellectual property.

According to Gutierrez, Microsoft's patents were not a profit centre but are, rather: "A currency that you use to trade to another company."

Whatever they were, his work earned him the respect of his peers, who awarded him such titles such as IP Personality of the Year 2013 and Most Influential Global IP Market Maker a year later.

Ballmer is now gone and successor Satya Nadella can’t get enough of open source or Linux – Office on Android, SQL Server on Linux, building Debian switches.

Gutierrez’s way of doing business is out of place – not that Microsoft’s patent police will be stood down, you understand, they’ll just tread softer and in different ways.

Larry Cady, senior analyst with patent monitor IFI, also reckons the patent business is changing: Microsoft assigning patents to holding firms – very cloudy operations, basically legal entities created by patent holders simply to own patents. The implication is, it is they – not the patent’s original author – who are now tasked with the less than glorious work of enforcement.

Indeed, the whole mission of Microsoft legal has changed.

Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer – to who Gutierrez reported during those Linux inquisition days – fights a new cause: to cast Microsoft as the good guy versus Uncle Sam over some emails on a server in Ireland. That came after Microsoft, like its tech peers, got caught sans pants with the NSA.

Commenting on Gutierrez’s exit, Smith said in a statement: “Horacio has made a huge contribution to Microsoft and to our team over more than 17 years. He’s a great leader and a great person, and I know he’ll be just as successful as he takes on a new challenge.”

Gutierrez, meanwhile, is reported to have called Spotify the right opportunity at the right time.

But, honestly, after nearly two decades at Microsoft working on law and on IP, Spotify is like retirement with office hours.

What’s next for Microsoft: more distancing itself from the Great Linux Inquisition of Gutierrez. What’s next for Gutierrez? Growing a goatee? ®

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