Jack Ellis

LeEco has hired a senior member of Google’s IP team as its general counsel, in a clear sign of the Beijing-based start-up’s ambitions to fortify its IP position as it expands into the US market.

Joshua McGuire will take up the position of vice president and general counsel at LeEco (which was formerly known as LeTV). Based out of the company’s recently opened regional headquarters in Silicon Valley, he will be responsible for “all aspects of LeEco’s US legal affairs and intellectual property protection,” according to a press release announcing his appointment.

McGuire departs from Google, where he has served as senior patent counsel responsible for Android and mobile patent strategy since 2009. During his time in the role, McGuire handled patent risk mitigation activities for Google and its Android ecosystem partners (such as HTC), including licensing and cross-licensing, patent acquisitions and divestitures, related regulatory matters and the IP aspects of broader M&A transactions. As Google’s lead IP counsel for the $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility in 2011, and its subsequent 2014 sale on to Lenovo for $2.9 billion, McGuire has played an instrumental part in some of the company’s biggest IP-driven deals.

Earlier this week, IAM reported from IPBC Global in Barcelona that Google’s IP function is currently being reorganised and streamlined, with a number of team members expected to leave the company in the near term.

This hire represents a clear statement of intent from LeEco, which is angling to become a major global player in the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) industry. “The complexity of our business demands the highest calibre legal counsel and Josh is exactly the person we need to guide us through our entry into the US market,” the company’s chief administrative officer Shawn Williams – himself poached from Samsung in April – is quoted as saying in the press release.

As IAM has previously reported, for all its bravado about conquering foreign markets and leaving longer established competitors such as Apple and Tesla in the dust, the Beijing company’s meagre patent portfolio has contributed to putting a brake on its expansion beyond China. With McGuire on board, LeEco has a proven IP strategist who has worked at the nexus of patents and open source software – both of which are likely to feature prominently in the company’s planned IoT offerings.

As for next steps, patent purchases may well be on the cards for LeEco. The acquisition of third-party portfolios is a route already being taken by fellow Beijing firm Xiaomi, which has faced similar hurdles in entering overseas markets. In an effort to secure freedom to operate and arm itself against possible assertions by competitors and NPEs, Xiaomi has bought thousands of patents from Broadcom, Intel and Microsoft since the start of this year. As such, it would not be too much of a surprise to see LeEco becoming more active on the IP transactions front in the near future.

LeEco's appointment of McGuire is the latest instance of a Chinese company tapping US corporate expertise in order to ramp up international expansion efforts. In 2013, Xiaomi hired Google’s vice president in charge of Android, Hugo Barra, to become its vice president of international operations; and last year, it appointed Qualcomm’s China head Xiang Wang to be its senior vice president of strategic cooperation, with oversight of IP business matters. Xiaomi has also brought in IP executives from patent fund operator Zhigu and Beijing-based display technology company BOE of late.

McGuire’s new role at the top of LeEco’s legal function also reflects a broader trend which has seen high-tech start-ups attracting IP specialists from larger companies and elevating them to the position of general counsel. Earlier this year, former Microsoft IP chief Horacio Gutierrez joined Spotify as general counsel. Recently, among others ex-Google patent strategist Duane Valz, Apple’s former chief patent counsel Chip Lutton and previous head of IP at Intuit Anirma Gupta have taken up general counsel roles at Zymergen, Nest Labs and Tanium respectively.