Five minutes with … Yihong Ying, Starbucks
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Five minutes with … Yihong Ying, Starbucks

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Each week Managing IP speaks to a different IP lawyer about their life and career

Welcome to the latest instalment of Managing IP’s ‘Five minutes with’ series, where we learn more about IP lawyers on a personal as well as a professional level. This time we have Yihong Ying, IP counsel at Starbucks in Seattle and Shanghai.

Someone asks you at a party what you do for a living. What do you say?

Sometimes people think I am a barista (no, not a barrister), especially my kids when they were younger, since I enjoy talking about coffee. Thanks to the opportunities of working in-store (what we call “store immersion”), learning skills such as serving coffee are the perks of being a Starbucks partner (employee).

Often, I introduce myself as a “coffee lawyer” as I advise on pretty much everything about coffee.

Talk us through a typical working day.

When I am working from Shanghai I normally start my weekdays with early morning calls before 7am, as it is a convenient time for me to stay connected with colleagues on the west coast of the US.

A typical day would be filled with meetings with internal clients, scheduled one-to-one catch-ups with team members, and working on important and urgent matters.

What are you working on at the moment?

Since I recently relocated from Shanghai to Seattle, where Starbucks is headquartered, I am settling down and getting adjusted to new norms of work and life.

Does one big piece of work usually take priority or are you juggling multiple things?

In the world of IP, and especially trademark practice, multi-tasking is the norm. There are always numerous matters, big or small, and with various deadlines, that need to be tracked and tackled.

It can be challenging, yet important, to practice and utilise time management and to find out the priority.  

What is the most exciting aspect of your role and what is the most stressful?

I feel it could be the two sides of the same coin – striving to keep a powerful brand formidable, while attractive, at all times.

Tell us the key characteristics that make a successful IP lawyer.

Be curious. That is, be curious to learn what the business is about, what the clients really want, and what is the driver for any request. Be curious to explore out of the box to seek new solutions, and be curious to keep learning to keep up with the ever-evolving world of new technologies.

What is the most common misconception about IP?

“I don’t think this can be trademarked/copyrighted /patented …” There can be preconceived ideas that a development may not be subject to IP registration or protection, which can be proven wrong from time to time.

That said, it does require a craft to provide practical suggestions on whether and how any idea, work, or invention may be protected.

What or who inspires you?

The people I work with. From watching how our R&D partners work, to learning new ideas, thoughts, and ways of seeing and treating the world from the younger generation.

If you weren’t an IP lawyer, what would you be doing?

While I feel we should live in reality and leave fantasy behind, I’d picture myself being a travel planner.

Devising an attractive travel plan requires extensive research, comparison, decision-making, trial-and-error, as well as being there with firsthand experience. This is something I’d like to think I'm good at. I don't think it could be replaced by artificial intelligence given the variables, human connections, and emotions involved.

Any advice you would give your younger self?

Always have a plan, and equally importantly a plan B.

Don’t find time, make time.

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