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Sony Ericsson’ legal department: convergence, IP rights specialists, and joint venture

Here are four points drawn from Legal Strat. Rev., Summer 2010 at 23, which interviewed Sony Ericsson’s general counsel, Jonathan Pearl. (As an editorial note, these points – and other collections of points about a particular legal department – don’t justify a full post but neither should they be tossed into my Morsels. They exist half-way, so to speak, so I try to have the header capture the essence of the ideas.).

Pearl does not subscribe to convergence theory. He deliberately uses a large number of law firms “partly to diversify and partly to ensure that we have some of the better people tied up with us.” That is to say, if you have retained a firm you have conflicted it out of representing a plaintiff against you. If you narrow down your set of counsel to a handful, hordes of other firms can act against you (See my post of Feb. 18, 2009: blanket waivers and conflicts policies; and May 1, 2005: five conflict of interest puzzles.).

Pearl does subscribe to virtual-firm theory. “We split the work on certain cases between bigger, more expensive firms and smaller, cheaper firms.” Staff intensive tasks go to the less costly firm while strategic and analytic tasks go to the more experienced big firm (See my post of Aug. 10, 2007: virtual firms with 6 references; and April 12, 2010: managerial load with multiple service providers.).

Pearl has a wide portfolio. The global legal department of Sony Ericsson has 20 lawyers, 20 “IP rights specialists (patent engineers or patent attorneys)” and thirty other members. That latter group includes a mixture of counterfeit and export-control and administrative staff. I have not heard of a legal department with “patent engineers” and I note the breadth of counterfeit and export compliance responsibilities.

Pearl’s lawyers serve a joint venture. His company is a 50:50 joint venture between Sony Corporation and Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson. A legal department of a joint venture must have managerial peculiarities, but this blog has never delved into them.