12 January 2022

For the first half of January, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the course titled “IP Strategies in Tech Industries," held in Silicon Valley, California.

We had to apply for this course last semester and the professor had to evaluate our credentials, as well as our personal essays, before being accepted into the class. The seminar aims to address recent IP issues in the tech field by going through the patent battles caused by converging technologies, such as the smartphone wars, automotive wars, and FRAND (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) licensing terms. It also targets critical discussions on looming issues in the space of cloud wars, data privacy, and AI.

We were able to meet and learn from the chief legal counsels of Microsoft, Google, Facebook/Meta, Qualcomm, Samsung, Apple, and many others. This was under the tutelage of Prof. Micky Minhas, the director of our IP Center and the former general counsel of Microsoft. It was really an incredible and amazing experience because we got to meet the tech giants and personally ask them about legal and business strategies, as well as their career paths towards heading these companies. 

Everything I learned about patent law and technology licensing last semester came in handy for this course. Without that, I would have been twenty times more overwhelmed with our readings and assignments. But all that knowledge was upended by practical learnings as well. Coming into this, I thought patents per se are valuable to each company because they are obviously assets that can be commercialized. But this doesn't seem to be the case for big tech companies. Their portfolios are actually liabilities too: exposure to patent trolls, source of sunk costs due to litigation and maintenance fees, and a possible reason for bad PR. It was really an eye-opening course — one that challenged my preconceived notions, stock knowledge (or what little of it I had), and beliefs about the tech world. 

Not going to lie: over the holidays, I was greatly distressed about this seminar not pushing through because of the rising Omicron cases. Up until the last minute, we were told to standby for announcements in case things had to be canceled. Granted, flying to California would not have been a waste since I was able to spend Christmas with my aunt on my father's side and New Year with my aunt on my mother's side. Still, I was really looking forward to this trip and I would have been so bummed if, after 2 years of being forced to always go online, we had to resort to Zoom, even for understandable reasons.

Just to give you an idea of how impressive our speaker line-up was, these are the general counsels, chief IP counsels, and tech leaders that we were able to personally meet over the course of that week:
    • Mickey Minhas, formerly from Microsoft and Qualcomm (our professor and Director of the Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property)
    • Allen Lo of Meta (Facebook)
    • Mike Lee of Google
    • JP Hong, formerly of Samsung and currently with Qualcomm
    • Krishna Sood of Microsoft
    • Jeff Lasker of Apple
    • Heath Hoglund of Dolby
    • Courtney Quish of Fortress IP Finance Group
    • Shawn Ambwani of Unified Patents
    • Rajiv Patel of Fenwick & West LLP
Hearing these lawyers talk before us was intimidating because 1) it felt like they were giving us Keynote speeches and 2) these are actually the industry freakin' leaders. These guys were at the forefront of major legal battles! I mean, our professor, the general counsel of Microsoft, actually squared off with the other speaker, formerly of Samsung, in real life!!! How amazing was that?

But it was also inspiring and incredibly riveting. It made me consider going in-house at a tech company, non-STEM background be damned! Their work, after all, rarely involves patent filings anyway. It's focused on balancing the interests of business and legal, and determining what will push the needle forward in terms of innovation and ingenuity. It also mostly involves cultivating a strong IP culture within the company, such that its trade secrets are kept confidential and its key people remain.

We had very interesting discussions on Microsoft v. Samsung, Fortress v. Unified, and of course, Apple v. Samsung — which literally divided the class. (I am, of course, forever and always, #TeamAndroid, and more specifically #TeamSamsung and #TeamMicrosoft!) The nuances in each side's arguments and defenses were so easy to gloss over as a young student who had a limited understanding of these concepts back when they were actually happening. But now that I am a little more familiar with the legal terrain, I can appreciate and learn from them. 

I feel like this course suddenly opened doors for me because aside from being able to personally network and connect with these chief IP counsels, it also made me realize the vast possibilities within the field of IP. Before taking on my LLM, I was just deadset on making a career on just copyright and trademarks alone. But now that I'm here, there is no reason to not explore and push myself out of my comfort zone if necessary in the future. 

I also really appreciated the fact that most of these tech leaders were Asians. It is a big deal because — let's face it — it can be hard to break into any industry when you're not white. Let alone when you are a woman. Life can be a series of closing doors when you don't have fair skin and a penis. Our speakers took the time to share their personal narratives and career advice aside from the substantial concepts, and I admire them for that. 

Anyway, here are a couple more photos from our Silicon Valley immersion. I sneaked in a few from our visit to the Google Campus too!

At Microsoft Campus with my Microsoft Surface Go :P #loyal

Lobby of the Microsoft SV Building

Silicon Valley at dusk

Some of us international/hybrid students

Thank you, Microsoft, for letting us in despite the threat of Omicron

Learning about Qualcomm's licensing strategy 

Can you find me on Google Maps?

I think this was actually someone's bike


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