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Advanced Micro Devices Inc. — the Sunnyvale, Calif., computer 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 when Thomas McCoy was promoted in December from the general counsel post he had held for nine years to a newly created position — chief administrative officer. Some say the change could presage a larger migration of the company’s legal operations out of California. The company’s new GC, Harry Wolin, has been a Texas-based attorney at AMD who will continue to work at the company’s Austin campus. 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 Bay Area law 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’s Fliesler Meyer, an IP boutique. Fliesler has handled patent work for AMD for more than 20 years. While Fliesler expects to continue working for AMD, he says he wouldn’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 Silicon Valley. But the company’s legal department has always been managed out of Sunnyvale. Wolin says his location in Austin will not have any impact on AMD’s legal department. He’s not transferring any California attorneys to Austin, and he says that 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.” The appointment of an Austin-based general counsel, meanwhile, fits into a larger pattern at AMD. The company, for example, recently cemented its ties to Austin when it named Hector Ruiz, AMD’s president and chief executive officer, as 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 Texas and California 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 Sunnyvale and Austin. AMD says 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. AMD won a major victory in 1994 when a federal jury 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. 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,” says Chao. “People deal with clients by telephone and e-mail all the time these days.” Helping O’Melveny’s relationship is the fact that McCoy, AMD’s former GC, was an attorney at O’Melveny for 17 years before moving in house. “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. What is unclear is how much influence McCoy will have when it comes to the hiring of outside counsel. Given Wolin’s longstanding ties in Texas, he could favor local firms with whom he’s already familiar and whose billing rates tend to be lower than those charged by Bay Area lawyers. A chunk of AMD’s patent work, which had traditionally gone entirely to Bay Area firms, was routed to Texas lawyers after Wolin took charge of the company’s IP assets in 2000. “He started using local people for the stuff coming out of Austin and counsel [in California] for stuff coming out of here,” says Fliesler. With AMD’s legal management moving to Austin, Bay Area law firms may switch from being the company’s natural choice for all legal matters to becoming 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 became GC in 1995. During his tenure, McCoy was responsible for a variety of nonlegal projects, which put a lot of pressure on his time, says Wolin. “Tom McCoy had been serving as much more than solely a general counsel for quite a while, and our CEO wanted him to take on a different role,” says Wolin. 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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