Richard Lloyd

Google has a new head of patents. Michael Lee, who joined the company from Cisco in January, has been appointed to the role following Allen Lo’s exit in August. Lee had been lead counsel for mobile at Google, having previously spent eight years at Cisco in a variety of roles including, most recently, as senior director IP strategy, marketplace and policy. 

Lee’s appointment came to light via his LinkedIn profile which gives October 2017 as his start date. It’s not clear who Lee will be reporting into — he didn’t respond to a request for comment — but, according to one source Google, is in the midst of shaking up its IP function: an overall head is due to be appointed with the respective heads of patents, trademarks and copyright all reporting into whoever gets that job.

There was some surprise among Silicon Valley cognoscenti about Lee’s appointment, given that he only joined the search giant at the start of this year. Most of the speculation around possible internal candidates had focused on legal director, global patents Jeremiah Chan and head of patent transactions John LaBarre. That said, Lee’s appointment has been universally welcomed by those in the Valley contacted by IAM; he is seen as a smart consensus builder.

While at Cisco, Lee was involved in last year’s IP3, the patent buying initiative run by Allied Security Trust that was inspired by a similar programme launched by Google in 2015. The series of senior roles he held at Cisco means he has plenty of experience of a sophisticated IP group at a major tech player in areas such as patent licensing and transactions, patent reform policy, open source and standards.

Prior to joining Cisco Lee was senior legal director for IP litigation and conflict management at Yahoo! and before that did stints in private practice with Shearman & Sterling and Fish & Neave. 

While the patent threat against Google might have dropped as NPE litigation against the largest tech players has fallen, head of patents at the search giant is still one of the biggest jobs in the corporate IP world. In his time at the company, Lo, who joined Google in 2012 from Juniper Networks, helped develop a more sophisticated patent operation, placing more emphasis on the use of analytics and leading the group through a series of innovative initiatives including the Patent Purchase Promotion and the Patent Starter Program.

We are about to find out whether his successor has the same latitude or inclination to introduce new projects focused on creating value from Google’s vast patent trove.