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Don McGowan - Technology law at Microsoft (and the software industry)


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Oh, oh, it's one of those evil lawyers! *

Microsoft has hundreds of lawyers, but one of our favorites is Don McGowan. He is now a lawyer over in the game division but worked in Windows for a long time (he was trained as an anti-trust lawyer, but performed a variety of tasks at Microsoft).

We sat down recently for a fun conversation about what practicing law at Microsoft is like and get his take on technology law. Patents. What software entrepreneurs should do to protect themselves.

Anyway, here's Don, raw and unedited!

* = Just kidding!


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  • kostik_y2kkostik_y2k Cats, Cats, Cats!
    I always imagined a typical ms lawyer as an "old-old-old-wise guy"... How old is he? Big Smile

    PS: a great video, thanks!
  • Just some nitpicking. You read that OS X is unhackable, not the hardware and unless you mean it will be illigel for the 360 to be hacked I really doubt that it will be technicilly impossible to be hacked (It just may be more trouble then it's worth for the average guy).
  • ah Smiley great video, scoble! for me being a c++ (mostly unmanaged, though Wink) fanatic law student this has been extremely interesting. i especially liked the comments Don made about the lawyers having to say 'no' to a product or feature when the road ahead isn't clear and their inability to hint what has to be changed in order to pass legal.

    the question there is, who is going to indicate the new direction for the new product or feature? is it all a matter of trial and error then? the product teams developing ideas and prototypes and the lawyers evaluating them and saying yes or no? is this the place for management to jump in (who know a little about everything, i'm thinking sometimes) and make a little more educated guess, but still a guess?
    seems like an interesting place in business to fit in, at least...

    i also liked the comment on being a professional pessimist a lot. one sentence a professor of mine is always saying is "create problems, don't solve them!" (not to be taken too literally). it's always like seeing a car driving over a bridge and then you're thinking of what could break in the construction, like down to every screw. to assess the likelihood of an incident? naah, that#s the judge's task Smiley

    thanks for the video!
  • tjstjs
    My other computer is Don McGowans laptop.

    Don is one of the coolest people at Microsoft. Go Don!!

  • ZeoZeo Channel 9 :)
    I love the banter of the interview...the interview is so alive!

    He claims that "there are many programmers who have kissed a girl"......From what I've seen on C9 I highly doubt that....althought I have indeed kissed a girl myself.:O

    So that's what happened to building 7!!!!

    I love the comment about Halo 3, very snarky
  • Great video. Good information and Don seems cool.

    I guess not _all_ lawyers are evil Wink
  • Excellent, one of the best videos I have seen in a while. How about we get some marketing person on?
  • CharlesCharles Welcome Change

    Don is not the first lawyer to appear on Channel 9... Our first attorney interview was with Mary Snapp.

  • Now this is a cool interview! Smiley

    P.S. Thanks for the link Charles!
  • I enjoyed the interview very much and liked the what is it like to work as a lawyer stuff best.

    A few questions I would have liked to hear asked:

    MSFT navigated a lot of legal challenges in its early and middle years ( first being accepted by IBM, then breaking with it. Adopting the windows GUI stuff from Xerox Parc and Apple. )  What was McGowan's opinion of that legal work and who were the lawyers most responsible for making all the right moves?  

    From the accounts I have read  of Bill Gates on the witness stand in the early years he handled himself very well.  If MSFT had lost some of those cases it would be a different company today. How key was BG's testimony?

    I heard a reference to MSFT developers having to watch what they say on their blogs. How closely do the lawyers monitor what the developers post to their blogs? Are the lawyers stifling what the developers want to say?

    great job!


  • warrenwarren atom heart mother

    Excellent interview, Robert, definitely amongst the best!

  • William Staceystaceyw Before C# there was darkness...
    It is all about risk.  Every time you do anything you open yourself up to being sued.  Lawyers can help you manage the risk, but in the end, management must decide risk/reward and make the decision.  BTW - good vid.
  • Thanks for posting this video! It's always interesting to watch tech guys making the transition to Intellectual Property Law.

    By the way, I posted the link on my blog (www.atharkhan.net/blog) so I hope even more people from my law school see this.


    Athar A. Khan.
    2L, Intellectual Property Law Program - Whittier Law School.
    B.S. Electrical Engineering - Illinois Institute of Technology.
    Principal Engineering Systems Analyst - Broadcom Corporation.
  • interesting to watch:D
  • rasxrasx Emperor of String.Empty
    Two silly remarks to be read by future civilizations using advanced data mining technology:

    First: the "invention" of writing is not related to any problems lawyers can recognize. I would say that writing was "acquired" (not invented) by the imperial cultures that would eventually devolve lawyers.

    Second: law is reality for imperial cultures. "Reality" is related to the Latin words re (law) and rex (king) and the puts the real in real estate. It is a "philisophical" waste of time to distinguish "natural" reality from legal reality in an imperial culture.Tongue Out

    Oh, dude, wait: we don't live in an imperial culture. What in hades am I talking about!Perplexed
  • What a lawyer - pretty funny though. I don't beleive that all lawyers are not evil.  In 2000 I went to work for a startup. When we got bought out, a lawyer was one of the first people to come talk to us.  When layoffs started, he was one of the first to go.
  • He just said he would take money to represent bad guys. That is evil.
  • I thought this was one of the best video interviews that C9 has done. Great job, Robert. The questions were very interesting. I thought the discussion on the branding and the image of things was great
  • Either lawyers misunderstand game theory or I do. McGowan made two points that he apparently sees no conflict between:
    • You (as a developer) need to ask us early and often about stuff so we can advise you
    • If there is the slightest likelihood that something might result in legal liability our answer will be "no"
    I found the second point out when I asked my company's internal legal deparment if it was a violation of copyright law (public display) to assemble a few people in a conference room and show one of the sessions from a Microsoft PDC DVD. They said it might be and told me I couldn't do that. I sent the same question to Microsoft legal. There used to be a form at http://www.microsoft.com/permission/copyrgt/cop-text.htm where you could submit permission requests, but I cant find it anymore. I never got any response. But I did learn my lesson. Never ask a lawyer anything.
  • Greetings from Montreal!

    Great interview!!

    I noticed he was dressed quite casually... 

    I don't suppose he was also wearing any funny slippers, was he?

    All the best!

  • Regarding the section of the interview on naming, Robert mentioned that some blame bad naming on lawyers. While lawyers sometimes play a role in bad names at least they have good reason (say, infringing on another companies trademark).  I think the bigger factor in bad naming are senior managers - particularly engineers - who think they know marketing and naming. This would be akin to a marketing guy telling the engineer how to build the product. Each should stick to his/her area of expertise, IMHO. Look here for more on this topic.

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