Doug Letter

Thursday, December 29, 2005


I read a DFW interview today ( that got me thinking about you. How are things going? I hope this is still your address. That is, unless you finally discovered what I discovered (and this is in no way influenced by my current employer, well, not strongly influenced): as soon as Apple became popular, it lost its luster. Isn't it funny how that works? Cool is synonymous with unique and uniqueness dies away when every other person buys Apple (at least an iPod if nothing else).

I'm still in Seattle working at Microsoft. I changed positions about a month ago. I was hired as a patent counsel, but the job scope was too narrow to hold my interest. The way I explained it (which should make sense to at least you) was that MS divided my WesternGeco job in half: I received the patent counseling work, and some other gal received the IP counseling work. The patent counseling consisted of managing the patent budget by divvying up cases between clients, overseeing OC as they drafted and prosecuted the patent applications, counseling on patent conflicts (MS receives many letters alleging patent infringement), and working as second chair with my other half on patent-related licensing deals. The problem with the patent counseling side was that I felt I was always taking from my clients and never giving anything back: I nagged developers to write patent disclosures, I nagged executives to accept patent opinions, I nagged managers to review the patent budgets. While MS received the benefit of patents, my clients didn't directly benefit from those patents (besides the fact that software patents take five years to issue, MS doesn't do much with its patents, as most large companies don't, regrettably).

The IP counseling job offered the other half of the exchange: providing general and IP-specific legal advice, contract negotiations, settlement work, etc., all of which benefited the client's bottom line. Another reason, I'm afraid to admit, was that I was beginning to doubt the benefits of the current patent system, especially as it related to software. The incentives seemed off, and the patents that won million dollar patent lawsuits seemed trivial. So, when that other gal decided to leave, she convinced me to apply for her job. I now work closer with the clients and provide greater benefits (at least as I see it), and I don't have to dirty my hands with the filing of questionable patents. While I usually enjoy patent work, MS's focus on obtaining large numbers of patents (mostly to build up chips for the cross-licensing negotiations, which is not a bad strategy), was a bit discerning. I felt too much like an easily replaceable peg in a large wheel.

Of course, another part of my desire to change jobs was my interest level. I'm not sure how you feel about this, but unless I have constant intellectual challenges, I grow stagnant. I want to learn new things either from really smart people, or through necessary research to solve a difficult problem. While there are plenty of smart people on the business and technical side at MS, the lawyers are, well, ordinary; ordinary in that they're good lawyers, well educated, relatively intelligent, but they tend not to push the law or search for novel solutions--something I greatly respected you for doing. The senior legal managers, in particular, remind me much of Gary Wilson. Most of them are smarter than him, but they share his political ways and his ability to say absolutely nothing with many, many words. Their decisions, while usually sound, tend to be on the conservative and easy side. Unlike WG (one of the better management decisions in SLB), I work directly for the lawyers and not the clients. While this has only a small impact on my work, it does distance me from the smarter technical and business clients. As I stay on longer and develop more relationships, that will hopefully fade away.

All in all, my first year at MS has been fun. I love the technology, the market (for me, all of MS's business markets are incredibly exciting: the internet competition between MS, Yahoo, and Google; the game console competition between MS, Sony, and Nintendo; and the OS competition between MS, Linux (or *nix), and Apple, to name the big ones), and playing with the beta software--the new MS Word is very nice, as is the new Internet Explorer. The corporate campus is very large with lots of people to meet (not that I meet many of them, but, you know, it's available if I wanted to). Seattle is an interesting place to live. While it doesn't have the energy of NYC (not that anyplace does), it has good culture and a personality (which Houston lacked).

In other news, Doolies and I are now engaged. I asked her on June 7 of this year and she accepted. She's in the last six months of her residency in Newport Beach, CA, and will move to Seattle in July to start a fellowship in Geriatrics. She's a wonderful girl and a great fit for me. I needed someone grounding, intelligent, and understanding, and I've yet to meet anyone more positive or compassionate--who, at the same time, manages to still accomplish stuff--than Doolies. Our plan is to marry in either December 2006 or early 2007 in NYC. She's begun the process of converting to Judaism, which was very important for me (and my family). At Doolies's urgings, I developed an engagement site: I know it's cheesy, but sometimes you have to give in. I'll need your physical address to send an invitation later in the year (not that I expect you to attend--I would love it if you could but I understand that you're a busy globe-trotting guy).

I still write fiction but nothing I'm proud of yet. I'm not sure I'll ever accomplish anything of note in that area, but I keep at it and hope for the best. I try not to get discouraged when I read DFW or other great authors, but it is difficult. I'm not terribly prolific, and I tend to only have short bursts of creative energy--around 1,500 words or so worth--followed by post-coital depressed feelings. It's very weird how it works. I keep plodding away, however. If it wasn't difficult, it wouldn't be worthwhile. I've written a few short stories and two terrible novellas (neither of which I've edited or plan on editing).

The last I heard about you was from a prospective employer. He sounded as if he planned to offer you the job, so you might be lawyer-ing again. I think that's a very good thing, by the way. As I've told you before, you are one of my most brilliant people I've ever worked with, and to see you not working was difficult.

I hope this letter finds you and finds you well. If you get a chance, write back and let me know how you're doing. If you're ever in the Northwest, drop me a line. I know some good restaurants--regrettably not Fogo de Chao good: I figure if there isn't a strategy to eating, what fun is there?--but decent nonetheless.

Kindest regards,