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Burning the Ships: Transforming Your Company's Culture Through Intellectual Property Strategy Hardcover – March 30, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


"This is a book as much about teams and organizations managing conflict brought on by significant change as it is about intellectual property (IP). Intertwined throughout a series of engaging and personal stories - showing how Microsoft instituted a strategic personality makeover from a monopolisitc bully to a respected collaborative partner - are lessons that every business person can use in building and implementing diverse teams to meet clear strategic objectives.Anyone who invests the short time to indulge the personal stories of this book will come away with a renewed sense of commitment to implementing fully cross-functional teams, as Phelps clearly shows as a key element to the successful transformation of a software powerhouse "going it alone" to spurring innovation and economic progress benefitting all of society." (Journal of Product Innovation Management, 2010; 27)

"Phelps (corporate vice president for intellectual property policy & strategy, Microsoft) and journalist Kline (Rembrandts in the Attic) have written a brisk and engaging book about Microsoft's radical overhauling of its intellectual property (IP) strategy. Phelps, the principal architect of this new strategy, gives the reader an insider's perspective on his struggle to overcome Microsoft's traditional use of its intellectual property as a "weapon" against competitors and to transform the company into a key player in the new business environment of "open innovation….the book is worth reading for its portrait of a major corporation undergoing massive change and for its lucid explanations of IP business strategy. Recommended for serious business readers." (Library Journal, July 15, 2009)

"Could Microsoft’s ability to produce intellectual property be the company’s future salvation? A few weeks ago, I complained that Microsoft wasn’t innovating. Yet the book Burning the Ships talks of Microsoft’s burgeoning intellectual property treasure chest. Burning the Ships shows the way to another outlet for Microsoft’s innovation. Instead of trying to hold their intellectual property close to the vest, Microsoft is beginning to open up the IP treasure chest and let others try to do the work of bringing those products to market." (InformationWeek, June 1, 2009)


"Told with a litigator's attention to detail, Burning the Ships recounts the journey that forced Microsoft to face its own 'succeed or die' moment. It's a powerful high-stakes lesson in strategy and survival that speaks volumes to business leaders of all stripes about the courage required to embrace radical business transformation."
William J. Amelio, President and CEO, Lenovo

"Intellectual property does not show up on your balance sheet, and your board of directors would not recognize it if it were set out on a table in the lobby. But do not kid yourself: in an era of ever-commoditizing supply and distribution, IP is the essential fabric out of which your competitive advantage will be fashioned. Burning the Ships gives you an insider's look into how this engine of economic returns operates and what you can do to maintain it."
Geoffrey A. Moore, author, Crossing the Chasm and Dealing with Darwin

"[There are] many interesting tales in Burning the Ships, a new book that traces Microsoft's moves from intellectual property novice to patent powerhouse. [It reveals how] the company set upon a new course with regard to intellectual property, making peace with longtime enemies, creating a business around its underused technology, and seeking to strike broad cross-licensing deals with nearly everyone in the industry."
Ina Fried, CNET

"A good case study of how Microsoft reinvented itself and began leveraging its Intellectual Property for good (collaboration) instead of evil (punishment). I would encourage anyone working [in the technology field] to read it. I can easily see that this book will be required reading very shortly in most MBA programs."
David Lane, Linux Journal

"Microsoft will always have its detractors -- all powerful and successful companies do -- and there is no doubt that it has thrown its weight around with great force on many occasions in the past. But for those prepared to look at the company with an open mind, this book is extremely revealing about why open source and collaboration have forced senior management to look again at its traditional ways of operating in order to embrace new business realities."
Joff Wild, IAM Magazine

"Burning the Ships recounts Phelps’ behind-the-scenes account of how he overcame internal resistance and got Microsoft to embrace collaboration with other firms. There are plenty of lessons in this book for executives in every industry where accessing previously untapped intellectual property can open up new business opportunities."
Stephen Albainy-Jenei, Patent Baristas

"This book describes a dramatic shift toward business openness and property ownership by a formerly closed, defensive company, resulting in enormous new value for the company."
William New, Intellectual Property Watch

"The book provides a very interesting behind-the-scenes account of the transformation of Microsoft, as well as dealings with competitors during that time."
Peter Zura, The 271 Patent Blog

"However technology evolves, IP strategies will have to evolve with it. This book is a chance to learn from one company's version of that evolution."
Wendy Grossman, ZDNet Reviews

"We've been looking for some new paper to turn here at the Engadget HD offices, and it looks like Marshall Phelps' "Burning the Ships" may be our next purchase."
Darren Murph, Endgadget

"Burning the Ships is a fascinating window into Microsoft's corporate conversion [away from] a "fortress mentality culture and go-it-alone market strategy." Collaboration and partnership are the new name of the game, and IP is the glue that seals such deals. Phelps and Kline offer plenty of behind-the-scenes accounts of strategy decisions and negotiations, and they're honest about how Microsoft was perceived in the market and about how difficult it was to adopt a new approach to competition. The writing is admirably clear."
–Nate Anderson, Ars Technica

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 186 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (March 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470432152
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470432150
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,612,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By P. Igoe on November 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a patent attorney, I had hoped for quite a bit more substance in this book. Instead, Phelps provides an uninspiring account of how Microsoft transitioned from its strategy of using its near-monopoly power to force partners into patent non-assertion agreements to a strategy of using their near-monopoly power, patent portfolio, and the implied threat from their investment in Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures to force partners into patent cross-licensing agreements. Phelps presents this change as a forward-thinking new way of doing business, but one can't help see this merely as spin regarding a change Microsoft needed to make to avoid further antitrust hassles and alienation of partners and customers with increasingly viable alternatives to Microsoft.

Phelps cites his confidentiality agreement with Microsoft at multiple points as an excuse for lack of details, but he and Kline omit even basic details such as which technologies were at issue in the licensing negotiations with Red Hat or Novell.

There is little insight to be gained by the normal practitioner as Phelps exists in a rarified world of practically unlimited financial and legal resources, mostly unquestioning executive support, and the leverage of the aforementioned near-monopoly power in the IT industry. Due to Phelps stature in the IP world, this is a book you will feel you have to read, but don't expect much.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Asay on April 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"Open source is not going away. Why should it?"

That's a quote from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in Marshall Phelps' new book, Burning the Ships, and it's a question that Phelps tries to answer.

In the course of doing so, Phelps portrays Microsoft as desperately striving to adapt to a new world of aggressive enforcement of intellectual property (IP), but ends up suggesting a rising IP hegemon eager to shape a new world of such enforcement.

It's not pretty.

Phelps is the man who turned IBM's patent portfolio into a $2 billion business (as he reminds the reader several times), but his goal at Microsoft wasn't to generate cash through licensing, he declares. Nor is Microsoft's new IP strategy a rehash of the old world where IP is treated as a negative right (i.e., the ability to protect one's IP from the wiles and avarice of competitors), but rather IP becomes "a bridge to collaboration with other firms."

But this is where the contradictions begin.

Phelps indicates that Microsoft cannot go it alone in the world...then points to statistics that claim 42 percent of the world's IT people depend upon Microsoft technology. Microsoft apparently has done quite well going it alone.

He further agonizes that Microsoft must expand its partnership footprint...even while identifying 640,000 vendors in Microsoft's partner ecosystem that earned more than $425 billion in revenue in 2007. It's unclear, based on his own evidence, how Microsoft is starving its partners and, indeed, Microsoft has always made much of what an impressive partner it is with 96 percent of its sales going through partners.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By PS WriterReader on April 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The sphere of influence of IP has exploded into the mass consciousness in recent years in large measure because of our growing dependence on computers, software applications and the internet to manage, inform and enrich our lives. Our own country's history is inseparable from the influence of our inventors and the laws that uniquely stimulated inventions of all kinds. It behooves us to have at least a passing understanding of the complex issues involving IP in this increasingly global 21st century. Burning the Ships is the well-written corporate memoir of Marshall Phelps, who played a critical role at both IBM and Microsoft in reorienting both companies' approaches to their own IP. The book is amply enriched by the insights of his co-author, David Kline, whose own expertise in IP includes co-authorship of the best-selling Rembrandts in the Attic. Although my own professional life has involved IP issues for almost thirty years, I highly recommend Burning the Ships to all readers, both new to the field and seasoned, who recognize how entwined their professional and personal lives are with the computer, software and the Internet, and, inseparably, their underlying IP.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By JM Brazil on April 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When you get passed the repetition and the self-promotion, the spin, the constant name dropping, and the bias, you'll find a pretty well-written summary on why IP at the top level of a corporation. Microsoft is a very good example of a company with vast experience in this field, and Phelps is a credentialed authority (as he points out at every opportunity possible) to give a valid opinion, but the book is a bit too superficial to be taken seriously as a business guide. On the plus side, the book is very up-to-date, and provides a good insider's view (although somewhat selective of positive moments) of the inner-workings of Microsoft at the top. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the negotiations between MS and OpenSource (RedHat & SuSE), and the passion with which it is written.

Overall, and aside from the negative, I enjoyed the book, and recommend it not only to those in the industry, but outsiders as well. Phelps' passion for IP is admirable, and it's clear that he put his soul into writing this book.
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