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Wei-Ning Yang had a plan. Growing up in Sichuan, China, she was going to become a biology professor at the prestigious Peking University. But her career trajectory got diverted after she came to the United States in 1987 to work on her Ph.D. in molecular biology. Just as she was finishing up at the University of Colorado in 1989, the Tiananmen Square protests erupted in China, and she decided to look into job possibilities in the U.S. Today, Yang is a patent attorney in Los Angeles, helping Hogan & Hartson’s Chinese clients navigate complex litigation in the United States. As a scientist, attorney and China specialist, Yang brings a lot to the table. Most important from her perspective, she says, is the ability to bring two cultures together. “I wanted to be involved with bridging the gap between the two countries,” she said. Yang began her career as a research scientist at biotech giant Amgen Inc. She was interested in law, but worried that her English skills weren’t sufficient. Some of her mentors convinced her that her science background would compensate for her English, and she enrolled in law school at night at Loyola Marymount University. She worked and studied English during the day. “It was tough to work all day and then go to school in the evenings — that was the only life I had,” Yang said. “When I would drive from work to law school, I would feel so sleepy on the road.” After graduating, she joined an intellectual property boutique that later merged with Loeb & Loeb. In 2000 she and a group of co-workers joined Hogan & Hartson’s Los Angeles office to create an intellectual property practice. Trading a career in science for one in patent law was the right decision, she said. “As a patent attorney, you work with people who have already created something, and you can see how it evolved and developed,” Yang said. As a research scientist, she could have spent years waiting for an idea to reach fruition. About a year after joining Hogan & Hartson, the firm opened a Beijing office, and Yang was able to incorporate her Chinese cultural background into her patent practice. One of Yang’s most high-profile cases was a 2003 action in which Energizer Holdings Inc. sued a group of battery manufacturers throughout the world for infringing its patents and sought to ban their products in the United States. Eventually, the case came before the International Trade Commission where Yang and a team of Hogan partners represented nine Chinese battery manufacturers. After a loss in the initial determination, the commission reversed its decision, a win for the Chinese battery manufacturers. They are still awaiting the results of another appeal, but, in the meantime, the batteries can be imported. Yang’s role in the case was critical, said Hogan partner William Thomson Jr., who worked and traveled with Yang in China. “It’s much easier to have someone who can speak their language and explain to clients their obligations,” Thomson said. “She maintained her good spirits even though we all got bone-tired from working long hours.” Yang said she enjoys working with Chinese clients because she is able to translate the cultural nuances. For example, litigation is viewed very negatively in China as an attack on one’s name and honor, but Yang instructs her clients to look at it as part of doing business. It’s about money, not principles, she tells them. It’s often frustrating to Chinese clients when the results don’t seem fair. Yang explains that in the United States it’s the fairness of the process that counts, not necessarily the outcome. It’s also hard for Chinese clients to understand that in the United States you have to give the opposing side documents in the discovery process, even if they’re damaging. Yang explains to them the consequences of not complying. “Because of my background, I understand their real concern and how to address it,” Yang said. Yang’s partners and at least one client say her calm demeanor and humility help the communication. “It’s extremely rare to find someone like that,” said Margaret Kivinski, general counsel for TherOx Inc., an Irvine, Calif.-based medical device company. “Most attorneys immediately take ownership of your matters and forget it’s the client’s matter. They’ll resist changes because it’s their baby.” The drive that got Yang through law school at night carries over into her legal practice. When it’s daytime in China, she begins the second part of her day. “Anytime I walk into the office after 4 or 5 in the evening, she’s speaking Chinese [to clients overseas],” said Stuart Lubitz, head of the office’s intellectual property practice. “She’s an educator — very persistent, very strong and has a sweet personality.” Yang balances her career with family, spending as much free time as possible with her husband, Tony Chen, also a lawyer, and her young daughter and son. The two honeymooned in China in 1995 — Yang’s first trip back since her relocation. Yang said she’s proud to be a Chinese-American leader in the legal field. “I want to get involved and help Chinese clients be successful here,” Yang said. “I consider myself someone who bridges the gap.”

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