Richard Lloyd

More than a month on from this blog breaking the story that Google patent chief Allen Lo was departing for Facebook, and it’s still unclear who is set to replace him. Over recent weeks, however, speculation in Silicon Valley has mounted around two possible internal candidates: Jeremiah Chan, who is legal director, global patents at the company, and head of patent transactions, John LaBarre.

Chan leads the portfolio management team at Google where he’s responsible for the strategic development of its patent portfolio, operations and data science. Prior to that he was head of operations and analytics, a part of the patent group that had Lo’s strong support. At a time when the use of big data techniques have become more prevalent in the space, Chan has become something of a pioneer at a company that unsurprisingly is pushing the envelope on bringing new approaches to patent analysis and portfolio management.

Chan joined Google in May 2012 from JDS Uniphase Corporation, a manufacturer of fiber optic networking equipment, where he oversaw the IP function. Prior to that he was an attorney at Fish & Neave in New York and the Valley. 

For his part, LaBarre joined Google’s transactions team in 2014 from the patent litigation group. He originally moved to the company in 2009 from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher’s New York office where he worked as a patent litigator. At IAM’s IP Software Summit earlier this year, LaBarre threw some light on Google’s view of the US patent system, an area where the search giant is accused by some of looking to weaken patent rights. “In my experience at Google we value patents, we just have an opinionated sense of what that means,” he said. “It’s a question of what does a strong patent system look like, not do we think we need a strong patent system.”

It’s possible that Chan’s analytics experience might make him the more likely internal candidate, having given him a deep knowledge of Google’s huge portfolio. In a 2014 IAM article on Google’s patent function, he commented: “I hear chief IP officers say that when you get to 20,000 or 30,000 patents then you don’t what you have - we know exactly what we have.”

His background might also suggest he’s the best fit as Google has pared back its patent transactions team in the last year. A big chunk of that group joined as part of the Motorola Mobility acquisition in 2011 and was a key presence as the company became a much more prominent part of the value creation market. Last year, however, several senior transaction specialists departed, including Kurt Brasch who went to Uber and Kirk Dailey and Brian Blasius both of who joined Marconi Group. Meanwhile, another big name dealmaker, Amar Mehta, headed over to Alphabet’s self-drive car business Waymo to become its head of IP. Of course, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he might head back again though he is thought to be very happy in his current role. 

Whoever gets the job will be taking charge at a time when patents undoubtedly pose less of a strategic threat to Google overall. Lo joined when the company was embroiled in the smartphone wars through its Android partners, faced a slew of NPE litigation and was busy integrating the legacy Motorola business and its thousands of grants. When Lo left five years later, litigation volume had fallen, particularly for major tech players, IPRs had become a boon to defendants in infringement suits and many reforms that Google had pushed for, such as fee shifting and changes to venue laws, have been addressed by the courts. Given all that, senior executives in the company's Mountain View HQ might well feel that they won the patent wars they had found themselves involved in. Clearly, they do not feel under any pressure to make a quick appointment.

Despite those market shifts and the fact that the patent group head no longer oversees patent litigation — that was removed from Lo’s aegis several years ago — Google’s patent head is still one of the biggest jobs in the corporate patent world. Whoever does fill Lo’s shoes will have a prime position from which to influence the market.