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Apple Loses a Key Player at the Worst Time

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Calling Apple litigious would be a gross understatement. It's like saying "scotch is tasty" or "Julia Roberts is rather annoying."

Of the company's most recent legal battles, it's dragged HTC back to court over patent infringement and it's taken Amazon to task for using the phrase "App Store" for its... app store. And that's on top of the countless cases in the past where Apple has sued over the word "pod", apples in logos, and a lower-case I.

So when Apple continually has so many of its legal irons in the fire, the last thing it needs is one of its key patent counsels to jump ship.

Unfortunately, Reuters reported that's just what happened.

Chief patent attorney Richard "Chip" Lutton, Jr. is leaving Apple right when, Reuters noted, the company is embroiled in patent cases worldwide -- chiefly with Android device manufacturers. In his absence, former deputy general counsel for Hewlett-Packard BJ Watrous is now named Apple's chief IP counsel on his LinkedIn profile, Reuters discovered.

However, BJ Watrous isn't the only new member to Cupertino's legal team. 9to5Mac found a LinkedIn profile for Jason Skinder -- formerly a senior associate for the law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP -- listing him as Apple's senior patent counsel. The company also recently hired litigation specialist Noreen Krall from Sun Microsystems.

But the new courtroom fodder Apple has added in recent months pales in comparisons to the number of cases it initiates. In addition to HTC and Amazon, the company has targeted Samsung, Nokia, and -- joining forces with Microsoft and Research in Motion -- outbid Google for a massive portfolio of Nortel Network's 6,000 technology patents.

And, of course, it sicced the Secret Service on a Apple Store laptop spy.

For Cupertino, clean design and manufacturing is priority number one. But given its history, launching patent and trademark disputes is a close second. Losing Lutton for reasons unknown may not shatter the cases Apple has going, but it certainly puts a crimp in the works.

On the other hand, hey, maybe Apple can sue him.

(See also: Apple Sics Secret Service on Laptop Spy and Apple Will "Probably" Lose Fight with Amazon)

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