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Burning the Ships: Intellectual Property and the Transformation of Microsoft by David Kline, Marshall Phelps

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Chapter 1. The Collaboration Imperative

On Sunday, May 25, 2003, I was playing golf near my home in New Canaan, Connecticut, when I received an unexpected phone call.

"Hi, Marshall, this is Bill Gates," said the caller. "I know that Brad [Smith, Microsoft's general counsel] spoke with you yesterday about the offer. But I just wanted to reinforce our hope that you'll come to Microsoft and help us with this really big challenge that we're facing."

Bill and Brad had already outlined the nature of that challenge when I met with both of them nine days earlier at the company's Redmond, Washington, headquarters: a limited patent portfolio that failed to protect Microsoft's huge R&D investment or provide it with the new business opportunities created by today's fast-changing technology environment. In short, they said, Microsoft needed a first-class patenting program and an intellectual property (IP) strategy that could facilitate the close collaboration with other firms that Microsoft needed to succeed in this new landscape of business competition.

"I know you're enjoying your retirement now," Bill went on. "But I really believe you're the person with the right background to handle this job."

I told him that I'd have to talk to my wife first, but that the opportunity did indeed sound exciting.

"That would be great," Bill replied. "We're all familiar with the great work you did at IBM, and I'm really looking forward to working with you."

It appeared that Bill had read some of the press reports ...

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