By Mary Lynn Lyke
Special to UM News
CORAL GABLES. Fla. (November 10,2015)—Microsoft Corporation has elevated Miami Law alumnus Horacio Gutierrez to the post of general counsel. Gutierrez, who joined the leading tech company after earning his J.D. from the University of Miami in 1998, has served as Microsoft’s corporate vice president and deputy general counsel since 2006. As general counsel, he will head Microsoft’s large team of legal, regulatory, and corporate affairs professionals throughout the globe.
Robert T. Maldonado, national president of the Hispanic National Bar Association, called Gutierrez “a role model to Latino law students and lawyers across the country.”
When he came to the University of Miami School of Law, Gutierrez already had three legal degrees. He was also a full-time international consultant for a Miami law firm. But the native Venezuelan needed a J.D. degree before he could sit for the state bar, so he signed onto an exhausting schedule at Miami Law.
He studied at night, on weekends, in the summer, working full time, helping raise his family, and graduating summa cum laude. “Were it not for the understanding that the dean of the law school and the dean of students had of my situation, the flexibility they showed, the mentorship they offered me to be able to navigate the requirements, I may not have gone to law school and attained a J.D. anywhere in the U.S.,” said Gutierrez, a distinguished 50-year-old who speaks with a light Latin American lilt, his hands emphasizing his words.
Since 2006 he has held the influential role of corporate vice president and deputy general counsel in charge of Microsoft’s worldwide intellectual property group, responsible for protecting, developing, and maintaining a massive portfolio of more than 37,000 patented innovations. In this role, Gutierrez waged and won his share of fierce legal battles protecting Microsoft’s patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. It’s a Herculean task at a company that invests more than $10 billion a year on research and development innovations.
But he became best known for his skills as a savvy deal-maker, an IP boss whose Microsoft team would rather negotiate than litigate, cutting headline-grabbing licensing agreements with the Novells, Nokias, and Samsungs of the high-tech world.
Licensing agreements allow companies to use intellectual property rights as a kind of currency to trade with one another and make deals in a “business-like manner,” outside courts, said Gutierrez.
Bartering IP rights is a new way of doing business in an era of rapid-fire technological advances. It speeds products to market faster and spurs innovation, said Gutierrez. Several decades ago, a company might have created every component of its products in-house. Today, a single product from a company can have patented components from hundreds of companies.
Gutierrez points to the smartphone, which contains what might have been dozens of devices a decade ago. It’s a phone, a digital music player, a GPS device, a high-definition camera, and video recorder. Apply a software-enabled app and it can be almost anything: flashlight, star-finder, Scrabble board, drawing tablet. All those separate components are developed by separate companies with separate patents, linked through a 21st-century labyrinth of licensing.
“When you get any consumer electronics product in your house—a television set, a stereo—you pull it out, unwrap it, plug it into the wall, and you start using it. You can feel it, see it, touch it. What you don’t see is the intricate web of intellectual property licensing arrangements that preceded the purchase of the device by you and existed among dozens of Asian, European, and U.S. companies,” said the Miami Law alumnus, who was named the No. 1 most influential global IP market maker by the Intellectual Asset Management Report.
Along with a reputation for making deals, Gutierrez, who was the Hispanic National Bar Association Region XVI President for Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington from 2012 to 2014, has earned a reputation for making a difference in his field. He founded the groundbreaking HNBA/Microsoft Intellectual Property Law Institute, a week-long program that introduces Latino law students to the profession and its practitioners. The goal is to boost what he describes as the “severely” low number of Hispanics practicing IP law.
“The HNBA is proud that such an active and committed member of the HNBA family continues to rise through the ranks of the corporate legal and tech community,” said Maldonado. “We commend Horacio not only for his professional achievements, but also for his dedication to advancing the cause of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.”
Gutierrez grew up a lawyer’s son in Maracaibo, Venezuela. At the age of 16, he talked his parents into letting him move to the capital of Caracas to study law at the prestigious Universidad Católica Andrés Bello; on summer break, he enrolled in his first software coding class and “fell in love.”
At the Caracas university, he earned two degrees: a bachelor of laws degree and a specialization diploma in corporate and commercial law. Degree No. 3 brought him to America for studies as a Fulbright Scholar at Harvard Law School. He earned his LL.M. there in 1991.
Studying for his fourth degree at Miami Law, Gutierrez, who’d come from a civil law background in Venezuela, immersed himself in the U.S. common law system, taking foundational courses in constitutional law, contracts, torts, and other building blocks of the American legal system. He weighed the two systems, studying differences and commonalities. “For me, every class was an exercise in comparative law.”
He describes the environment at Miami Law as encouraging and supportive. Over the course of his studies, his professors became his mentors and his friends. Many remain so today. “That experience is unlike anything I had anywhere else,” said Gutierrez, who has also served as adjunct lecturer at the school and in 2013 was named Lawyer for the Americas by the school’s Inter-American Law Review.
Gutierrez had just graduated from Miami Law when Microsoft started calling. He signed on in 1998 as lead attorney for corporate and commercial legal matters in most of Latin America and the Caribbean. The software giant’s “cutting-edge legal opportunities” have immersed him in everything from international contracts to cross-border counterfeiting, government surveillance, telecommunications, and privacy rights. Before taking the IP lead, he had a four-year stint in Paris as associate general counsel for Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. More recently he had taken on a new leadership role as corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of Microsoft’s products and services group.
A year before his promotion to general counsel was announced this November 6, the keen legal scholar told Miami Law Magazine he was ready for whatever came next. “No one at Microsoft has put a limitation on what I am expected to do,” he said. “And I certainly haven’t put one of myself.”
An earlier version of this article originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Miami Law Magazine.