People of Stanford Research Park: Ming Yangby SRP on October 6, 2023
Get to Know Ming Yang: An Inspiring and Unsung Hero of Innovation and Progress
Partner and Patent Lawyer, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP
Talk to Ming Yang long enough, and you’ll find yourself out of excuses for not finally going after that big goal you’ve been carrying around. The patent attorney at Finnegan seems naturally drawn to adventurers and inventors. He lives his life from an abiding curiosity and openness. Given his path from working as an engineer in Taiwan to being a patent trial lawyer in the Bay Area, it’s clear he’s inspired by those who have big dreams and achieve them.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in mechanical and electrical engineering and then a master’s in mechanical engineering, Ming took on something he calls “inconceivable”—he pursued a law degree at The George Washington University in D.C., almost 8,000 miles from his home in Taipei. He suddenly found himself in classes with professors teaching in a language he was still learning and realizing that, while he recognized most of the words, he struggled to understand their meaning in a sentence. Not only was he learning the law, but he was simultaneously learning a different country’s law, the English language, and the esoteric language of law.
No less, he graduated from law school—and with high honors, proving the impossible was possible. So why not go after something else seemingly inconceivable? The engineer in him loved innovation. The lawyer in him saw that an inventor’s creation is only as useful as it is protected. Patent law, which sits at the intersection of his passion and expertise, it would be. But English is the native language of the vast majority of trial lawyers in the U.S. If he would have to stand before juries and make a case in English, so be it. He would simply practice tirelessly and make it happen. Today, Ming has helped numerous people and companies protect their intellectual property or defend their rights in court, and he has shepherded a long list of inventors through the process of applying for and receiving patents.
Ming and his colleagues are part of the professional services collective in the Stanford Research Park ecosystem. They are essential players in the value chain of innovation, ushering the inventions of scientists and technologists along to market, where they can effect positive change and progress while protected.
With all this in mind, it’s no wonder Ming holds a deep belief that you can’t know if something is impossible until you try it. He also believes that people will show up to help you along the way. He’s well aware he could not have achieved his big goals alone, and he’s committed to paying it forward. Ming offers pro bono services to clients who come by way of Finnegan’s partnership with Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto and Finnegan’s long-standing program representing veterans with appeals when their medical needs and benefits are denied. Here again, Ming stretches himself and tries these cases despite that they exist beyond his area of expertise. Each one calls him to learn some new area of the law to help those in need. Undaunted, he again embraces these challenges without reservation.
We’re excited for you to get to know Ming Yang, yet another person who makes Stanford Research Park a unique and special place.
What inspired you to pursue your field of work?
Trained as an engineer first and lawyer second, I love innovation and the creation of new things that solve problems. I also learned that most innovators don’t know their rights and how to protect their inventions. Being a patent lawyer is like being the bridge between innovation and success. When an innovation is protected, we have a happy ending—which is the elation of seeing someone’s creation in a patent, in a public document from the United States that says, Hey, you have a patent! You are a true inventor!
I pursued patent law because of the joy I feel when people put all this arduous work into creating something of value and then they are able to protect it and get and rewarded for it. And then innovation tends to have a positive multiplier effect, as future creators can stand on their shoulders and improve or expand upon the innovation. You may not expect it, but there are so many happy moments in patent law.
Through my work, I am always meeting inventors trying these great, big, Einstein-like things. They remind me again and again—we have to keep telling ourselves that there are no limits to our imagination. We have to keep saying, let’s try new things, let’s invent and reinvent ourselves.
Ming Yang, Partner and Patent Lawyer, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I have the luxury of seeing new technologies every day, which I really enjoy. Many times, I get to see the best of the best technologies well before they go to the market. Even more, I enjoy seeing inventors and creators realize their dreams. You can see their passion and their fire of genius. It’s inspiring to see someone do something great and then share in their dreams as they take it to the world. It’s a privilege to help creators make their creations known.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m going to name two! One of the most interesting cases I worked on was a drug case. The story behind the drug’s development is very touching and was actually made into a movie called Extraordinary Measures. An inventor’s creation led to the first cure for Pompe disease, a rare and tragic genetic disorder that affects thousands of children. Without treatment, most children with the disease would live only a few years. I led a case where the invention that created the cure, and the company that held patents from the invention, was at the center of the dispute. In the end, the company collected $180 million from a well-known drug company that tried to breach its license. And the total royalties collected over time was close to $1 billion.
The other case I am most proud of was one of my pro bono cases. This one was a tenant-landlord dispute, and our team was helping a father and son, who lived in an underprivileged community, avoid eviction. It was a difficult case, and we had to prepare the tenants for the worst—which was, if the jurors sided with the landlord, they would have to be out of their house within 21 days. After three days in court, we got the most surprising verdict, one that changed lives. The jurors sided with the father and son and decided that they would get to stay in their home, that they would get to keep a roof over their heads. Not too many clients hug me at the end of a trial, but both the father and son were in tears and hugged me really tight.
Who or what inspires you today?
Three people from different centuries inspire me: Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, and Anna McNuff. Most recognize why people like Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein are very inspiring. Anna McNuff is similar but also different—she’s a British endurance athlete, adventurer, and motivational speaker. Among her many adventures, she began an 11,000-mile bicycle ride in 2013 across all 50 states, over seven months. Most people thought, A 29-year-old woman biking alone across the U.S.? That’s impossible. That’s dangerous. All three people (or all three aces—Abraham, Albert, and Anna) had the kinds of dreams where most people were saying to them, You can’t do that, that’s not possible. But they put their minds to it, they said, This is my dream, and I have to try. And they achieved it.
What is your personal passion?
Trying something new! I’m one of the many in the Stanford Research Park who commute to work by bike. Cycling is one of my passions. And it’s just one item in a big category of my drive to try new things and reinvent myself, without any boundaries on my imagination. Initially, I tried road cycling. So then I said, Why not mountain biking? Next, Why not surfing? And then kayaking. And stand-up paddling.
The thread is the dream to try new things, even if I fall off my mountain bike or surfboard—which I have done many times! Through my work, I am always meeting inventors trying these great, big, Einstein-like things. They remind me again and again—we have to keep telling ourselves that there are no limits to our imagination. We have to keep saying, let’s try new things, let’s invent and reinvent ourselves.