"A new patent every three days"

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Claudia Junker has headed the legal department at Deutsche Telekom since November 2010. In this interview, she explains how partner agreements should become easier, and which consequences the patent war in the telecommunications industry has.

Ms. Junker, you are the head of the legal department, with its more than 200 employees. Why do we hear so little from you? Claudia Junker: I believe that legal departments should perform their work as noiselessly as possible. This doesn't mean we don't have much work to do: This year alone, we were involved in the drawing up of more than 14,000 contracts, handled over 2,000 court cases, and provided advice to colleagues within the Group more than 46,000 times.

This is impressive in quantitative terms. What about the quality? Claudia Junker: To measure the quality of service, our customers – that is, the internal Group units – are surveyed as to how satisfied they are with us. The legal department has improved its TRI*M index score continually over the years. We most recently achieved a score of 100 points – expressed in school grades, that's about an A-. The external average for corporate legal departments is 61 points. So we are much better.

Deutsche Telekom wants to open up more to partners, the ubiquitous “Steckerleiste” is the metaphor we use for this initiative. What does this mean from a legal standpoint? Claudia Junker: We have been working with standard contracts for years, which are constantly evolving. These contracts are essential to quickly establish a foundation for our cooperations with partners. This is not always easy with startups, in particular: They often fall over in surprise when they read the standard market liability clauses, for example. But there are also self-assured newcomers who demand that we honor their own standard contracts. In such situations, we have to make sure their plugs fit in our power strip. The goal is to develop solutions that do not scare potential partners away, yet at the same time protect the interests of Deutsche Telekom. That's what we work on.

Your department also handles patent matters. What is the patent situation at Deutsche Telekom? Claudia Junker: Just in the past year, Deutsche Telekom filed 148 patent applications, or a new patent every three days on average. We hold nearly 8,000 patents worldwide. For the new TeraStream network architecture alone, there were 17 inventions by employees over a short period of time. In late January, we were granted a German patent for a solution that defends against attacks on data transmission in mobile networks. So we have a lot of innovative spirit.

There have been lots of stories in the media lately about a patent war in the telecommunications industry. How does this affect Deutsche Telekom? Claudia Junker: Overall, the legal situation in Germany provides far too many opportunities for "patent trolls". These are companies whose sole purpose of existence is to buy patents and threaten other companies with lawsuits. For example, they might demand that a certain smartphone model be withdrawn from the market, or even an entire network shut down. The only alternative for the company is to pay horrendous fees. Instead of protecting innovations, it stifles them. A uniform system is currently being developed at the European level that will likely take up this matter. If Europe wants to meet the United States at eye level when it comes to innovations, then we also need an appropriate legal framework.