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Advanced Micro Devices Inc., the Sunnyvale chip maker that waged some of Silicon Valley’s most storied court battles, has quietly based its new top legal officer in Austin, Texas. The move took place in December, when Thomas McCoy was promoted from the general counsel post he had held for nine years to a newly created position. Some say the change could presage a larger migration of the company’s legal operations out of California. The new GC is Harry Wolin, an attorney at the company’s Austin office. Neither of the changes was publicly announced by the company in press releases. Wolin will continue to work at AMD’s Austin campus, where the company maintains a 950,000-square-foot facility for chip design and the manufacture of Flash memory devices. Wolin had served as AMD’s head of intellectual property since joining the company from Motorola Inc. in 2000. The organizational changes could have important consequences not just for the company’s approximately 24-lawyer in-house legal department, but for the Bay Area firms that have long represented the company. “Any time that your general counsel is moved to a new location, that usually means the company is being centered in a new location and things will change,” says Martin Fliesler, a partner at San Francisco IP boutique Fliesler Meyer who has done patent work for AMD for more than 20 years. Fliesler said he expects his firm will continue to work for AMD, but said he won’t be surprised if the company starts to rely more on Texas firms when a legal matter or a piece of litigation isn’t specifically based in California. For years, AMD has divided its in-house legal staff between offices in Austin and Sunnyvale. But the company’s legal department has always been managed out of Sunnyvale — in 1999, when Assistant General Counsel J. Vincent Tortolano was still at the company, the GC and the two top legal directors below were all in Sunnyvale. Wolin said his Austin home base won’t have any impact on AMD’s legal department. He said he has not transferred any California attorneys to Austin, and he intends to continue hiring in-house attorneys on the West Coast as turnover occurs. “I don’t think I’d read anything in there that we’re moving just because I’m here,” says Wolin. “Nothing has changed.” He stressed that AMD assigns its in-house attorneys according to where the company’s needs are. Currently, the Sunnyvale legal group is slightly larger than its Austin counterpart. The company also has a small group of attorneys in Germany, where it maintains a manufacturing facility. “The lawyers go where the clients they need to support are,” said Wolin. “Right now we’re set up about right for where those services need to be provided.” The appointment of an Austin-based general counsel fits into a larger pattern at AMD. Last week, the company further cemented ties to Austin when it anointed President and Chief Executive Officer Hector Ruiz as the chairman of the board, a role long held by founder W.J. Sanders III. A former Motorola executive, Ruiz lives in Austin, though he officially splits his time between the company’s Austin and Sunnyvale offices. Three other members of AMD’s eight-person executive council live in Austin, including the chief financial officer. Like Ruiz, the CFO splits his time between Texas and California. AMD insists its headquarters are still in Sunnyvale and that there are no plans for that to change. Since its founding in 1969, AMD has been an important source of legal work for Bay Area lawyers of all stripes and a party in some of the region’s most high-profile litigation. The company spent the first half of the 1990s locked in litigation with Santa Clara’s Intel Corp. over the rights to microprocessor code the two companies used in their products. In 1994 a federal jury handed AMD a major victory when it concluded that the company had the right to use Intel’s code in a series of computer chips as a result of an earlier cross-licensing agreement. Among the many firms whose Bay Area offices count AMD as a client are O’Melveny & Myers, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Latham & Watkins and McDermott, Will & Emery. Since taking over as GC, Wolin says he has traveled to California about 10 times and has met with a number of lawyers at the firms AMD works with. “Those I had relationships with before, I still have,” he says. Howard Chao, who heads O’Melveny’s Asia practice and represents AMD, says moving the GC to Austin will not affect his firm’s relationship with the company. “This is the electronic age,” said Chao. “People deal with clients by telephone and e-mail all the time these days.” Helping O’Melveny’s relationship is the fact that former GC McCoy was an attorney at O’Melveny for 17 years before joining AMD. “In any situation where a company gets a new general counsel, there’s a possibility that that may mean some changes,” says Teresa Johnson, the chair of the business department at Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin. But the fact that McCoy remains at AMD should help ensure that Bay Area firms with longstanding ties to the company don’t get lost in the changing of the guard, Johnson says. Just how much influence over the hiring of outside counsel that McCoy, now chief administrative officer, will retain in his new role is unclear. With Wolin having always been in Austin, he could favor Texas firms whom he’s already familiar with and whose billing rates are lower than Bay Area lawyers. Such a scenario would not be out of keeping with history, said Fliesler. A chunk of AMD’s patent work, which had traditionally gone entirely to Bay Area firms, was routed to Texas lawyers after Wolin took over the company’s IP in 2000. “He started using local people for the stuff coming out of Austin and still counsel up here for stuff coming out of up here,” explained Fliesler. With legal management moving to Austin, Bay Area law firms may go from being the company’s natural choice for all legal matters, to a regional option for the company’s California-based work. The changes at AMD’s legal department mark an end to an era that began when McCoy assumed the GC role in 1995. During his tenure as general counsel, McCoy was responsible for a variety of nonlegal projects, putting a lot of pressure on his time, said Wolin. “Tom McCoy had been serving as much more than solely a general counsel for his company for quite a while, and our CEO wanted him to take on a different role,” Wolin said. McCoy now oversees several administrative groups at AMD in addition to legal, including human resources, real estate, government relations and community affairs.

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