Profiles: Micky Minhas, JD/LLM ‘97


Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Micky Minhas

Top secret government programs, the mobile phone boom of the 2000’s, and one of the biggest software companies in the world. Micky Minhas, JD/LLM '97, Executive Director of the Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property, has had a fascinating career and will now take that experience to lead our top 10 IP program. Learn about his background in this new series of The Legal Impact podcast.

Get an email when the latest episode releases and ever miss an episode by subscribing on Apple PodcastGoogle PlayStitcher, and Spotify!

UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law is now accepting applications for JD, Graduate Programs, and Online Professional Certificates at https://law.unh.edu 

Read the Transcript

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Top secret government programs, the mobile phone boom of the 2000s, and one of the biggest software companies in the world. Micky Minhas, an alum from the year 1997 and executive director of the Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property has had a fascinating career and will now take that experience to lead our top 10 Intellectual Property Program.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

This is Profiles, a special series of the podcast, The Legal Impact, where you get to know the powerhouse people at UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law. UNH Franklin Pierce is now accepting applications for JD graduate programs in online professional certificates. Learn more and apply at law.unh.edu.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

So what was your path leading up to before law school? I mean, where'd you go to school? Where'd you get your undergrad?

Micky Minhas:

Sure. So I started at my undergrad at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And there, I graduated in electrical engineering. Got my first job actually as a sophomore in college. I got my first sort of co-op job as an intern, and then I graduated into my role. I worked at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. in a division called Tactical Electronic Warfare. So I worked on lots of direction finding equipment on top secret types of projects that were going on at the time.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Lots of intellectual property I'd imagine with things like that, in addition to engineering.

Micky Minhas:

Yeah actually, and that's probably what started my interest in the law. So I started working there as a 20 year old, as a sophomore, and continued on to get my master's degree. So I went to George Washington and got my master's in engineering at night while working full time. And it was during that time period that I came up with an invention. And my boss at the time said, "Oh, you should file for a patent for this." And so my first question is, "What's a patent?" And that was my first foray into the inventive process, which got me thinking along the legal lines.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

How did that expand from there to want to study law specifically?

Micky Minhas:

Sure. So I experienced sort of patent law first from this side of the inventor and understanding that you can actually get rights on something that you came up with from an idea, which sort of shed the light for me in terms of that, and then I worked with a patent attorney in preparing the patent application and got into that process.

Micky Minhas:

At the same time, I was sort of having second thoughts about the engineering as my career path. I was working on top secret projects in a building with no windows in a Southwest corner of D.C. And I was 23, 24 years old thinking, "I'm not sure if I really want to do this for the next 30 years." And so, that patent attorney guy that I was working with, that sounds like something kind of fun. Maybe I'll try that. And I had a coworker that was currently in law school and going down that path. And so then I started having conversations. I went and reached out to talk to that patent attorney and I talked to friends I knew who were in law school and started exploring it from there. And that was when I decided to go to law school.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

What did your law school search look like? I'm assuming you were looking around through a breadth of colleges.

Micky Minhas:

I was. Well, actually, the number of colleges that specialized in intellectual property, this is mid '90s again, was more limited. And so I had narrowed my choice to probably three or four schools that really focused on this. For me, I think it came down to George Washington and Franklin Pierce as the top two. GW had a night program. I think GW was ranked number one at the time and Franklin Pierce was ranked number two at the time, so real close calls in between that. GW was an evening program and I had just gone to night school at GW for my master's, and Franklin Pierce was sort of full-time day and up in New England.

Micky Minhas:

And so, part of it was a life decision to choose to live up here and really immerse myself in the law, as opposed to sort of working and balancing that with school at the same time. And so that's the option that I chose. It certainly was sort of questionable at the time, but it's probably the best decision I've ever made.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

What was it like when you got to Franklin Pierce Law Center at the time, what was the student experience like for you?

Micky Minhas:

So it was so informal. It was really a breath of fresh air. Concord is in the middle of New England and I had not lived in New England before, so it's a unique part of the country to experience. It's a law school that sort of sits by itself. It's not on the campus of an undergraduate university with it. So it has a different feel to it. I described it to some people as almost like adult high school, where it's like you've got three or 400 students in a building, but now you're not 14 to 18, now I think the average age was like 27 or 28 at the time. And so, yeah, so it was sort of that experience.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Any faculty that really stood out to you when you were here?

Micky Minhas:

Oh, quite a few, and at least one is still here. Marcus Hern was my contracts professor who's still here. Scared the heck out of me in the beginning. Totally did. Very intimidating. But as you got to know him, you got to understand how friendly he was over time. And that goes to part of the charm of the school is you really could get to know the professors. At least in that timeframe, we called all our professors by their first names. And they would be sitting around in the jury box having coffee and you would join them for that, or you'd join them for a drink in the evening. It was a very common thing to do at that time.

Micky Minhas:

Bruce Friedman, our [inaudible 00:05:50] professor was a big basketball player, as was I. And so there was a whole group of us. We would rent an elementary school gym and play hoops a couple of times a week. By our third year, Bruce even had us playing against the prisoners. Because he was leading the Criminal Defense Clinic, and he arranged a game between the law students and some of the prisoners, which we were pretty apprehensive about, but it turned out to be a great time.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

I love that though. I recorded a documentary on Bruce Friedman last year though. I'll put in the description. Anyone who doesn't know who Bruce Friedman is really should learn about Bruce Friedman. A clinic is named after him.

Micky Minhas:

He's an amazing guy. An absolutely amazing guy.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Yeah. Now, a common theme of any alumni I've interacted with that have come to the Law School is especially the student networking that comes out of it. What was it like for the student life perspective and getting to know classmates and how those relationships continued after graduation?

Micky Minhas:

Sure. So, in my case, I moved up from D.C., right? So it was a pretty heavily populated urban area and boom, now you're in Concord, New Hampshire with a group of law students and you're in a small town, right? So you see these folks from the small town, like you run into law students everywhere you go all the time, right? And that was part of the charm, and it was enjoyable. So it became your social group. It became the group you commiserated with during school. It was a group you hung out with sort of all the time. And so, I spent a lot of time in this library studying away in the days and the evenings. It was just a real community, a real family type of atmosphere.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

So you graduated, thankfully.

Micky Minhas:

Yes. Yes.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

What happened next?

Micky Minhas:

So like most students, I went to a law firm. So my wife and I at the time, her family is from Wisconsin. We sort of wanted to live in the Midwest and be closer to family. So we relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is where she's from. And it was a great firm to be with, but for the areas of technology that I was involved in and the Midwest, it didn't really sync up. So my background was, back in my engineering days, was this direction finding equipment. It was very radio frequency oriented type types of things and antennas and stuff like that.

Micky Minhas:

And this is the late '90s. So the cell phone industry was just starting to emerge, and emerge meaning it was starting to miniaturize from large phones that you kept in a bag, right, into-

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

That cost thousands of dollars.

Micky Minhas:

Exactly, into miniaturized things that fit in the palm of your hand. And so the technology was just starting to evolve to becoming much more consumer friendly in that way. So given my technology background, it sort of lent itself to the mobile phone industry. And so I specifically targeted, like I wanted to work for a mobile phone company. So I studied the area, chose a handful of companies, and ended up signing with Qualcomm in San Diego.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

And what did that career look like over with that very large company that exploded over the following decades?

Micky Minhas:

Yeah, very much so. So I started in the fall of '99 and that's around the time that it just exploded. If you recall, that was when the stock market sort of jumped up to brand new highs too, right? Because it was kind of the wireless boom, but it was also the internet boom kind of occurring at the same time.

Micky Minhas:

So I spent 13 years at Qualcomm, but if I had just marked between 2000 and 2010, the growth was just astronomical, just keeping up with demand, demand of the products. The legal issues were a first impression because suddenly, there was this two to $800 device that everybody in the world wanted in their pocket and it gets replaced every two years. I don't think there's ever been a product like it that has that sort of reach at that sort of value. And with Qualcomm in particular, where intellectual property licensing is an integral part of its business model, it was a really neat place to be.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

What did day-to-day look like in a job like that?

Micky Minhas:

Sure. So it evolved over my 13 years there. So when I first started there, I was a patent prosecutor. So I represented a business, and actually, it sort of evolved. When I first started there, I worked in a group called Digital Media and it was about digitizing the movie industry. And so, at that time, movies were still tapes, right? Tapes would be spliced together. You'd see this little hiccup in movie theaters when you'd see it, and it was about digitizing it.

Micky Minhas:

And so Qualcomm won one of the first contracts, I guess, to start doing that with this animated film that nobody thought was going to amount to anything. So I was working with the engineers sort of in the back in the labs to work on this animation. And you'd see clips of this movie. And eventually I asked, "What is that movie?" And [inaudible 00:10:57] said, "Well, they got some big names. They have Eddie Murphy as a donkey, and they have Cameron Diaz as a princess. And it's this movie called Shrek and it's sort of fantasy like, but we don't think it's really going to amount to much," which is probably why they gave it to us to go do.

Micky Minhas:

So I worked on the inventions associated with the digitization of Shrek. And of course that became a hit movie. The technology, now digitization's sort of taken for granted, but that was sort of when it first started. Like how can you compress things in a non lossy way? So I learned a lot of those technologies in the video coding space, then I sort of moved onto the wireless stuff and really worked on 3G and 4G particularly, and sort of became the lead counsel for those areas of technology. So particularly as 4G grew, so did my span of influence and control in that area.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Now, you transitioned from Qualcomm to another large company, correct?

Micky Minhas:

Right. Yeah. So just to finish out the Qualcomm time, so 4G was just sort of blossoming. I think we did the first significant patent acquisition in the 2005, 2006 timeframe. We bought a 4G, a seminal 4G patent portfolio for just a little bit south of a billion dollars, which in 2006 was a lot of money, especially for an intellectual property portfolio. And so that was sort of a big earth shattering move. It solidified Qualcomm's patent position in the 4G space at that time. I certainly was questioned about the valuation at the time of the purchase, but I've had so many tell people tell me afterwards it was the smartest thing that the company did in terms of making that level of investment to assure its patent position then.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

They're the industry standard when it comes to radios-

Micky Minhas:

It is.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

And any modern... I'm a techie. I mean, Qualcomm made this, Qualcomm made this. Is it a phone? Oh yeah, there's something in that device that Qualcomm has a patent or a manufacturing interest in.

Micky Minhas:

Yeah, exactly. Yeah, so it still has a majority share in the chip market and then all the patents that go into it. Whether it's our own chip or someone else's chip, they still make a lot of licensing dollars on each of those.

Micky Minhas:

It was during that timeframe actually that we did a benchmarking session with Microsoft. And so what's not an uncommon thing for companies to do is just sort of like, "Hey, we're now competitors with one another. Let's have our patent people and our licensing people are our litigation people sort of meet and talk about best practices in you're given spaces." And so we did that with Microsoft at the time and that was sort of the first time I had an introduction to the folks at Microsoft.

Micky Minhas:

A couple years later, Microsoft was in a major litigation with Motorola, and it was not going well for Microsoft. And I got a call from the lead at the time, a guy named Horacio Gutierrez, who called me out of the blue and started describing their problems and saying, "Hey, I think we need to rethink how we're doing the patenting function at Microsoft. Would you be interested in doing that?" And so we talked for about a good six months or so on what the role would look like and what to do. And so in the fall of 2012, I accepted that role and packed up and moved from San Diego to Seattle.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Once again, what did your day-to-day look like? I'm really fascinated by people that work in these leading corporate industries. What exactly is it that you do with... Because there's a lot of people that filter down from the things that you do.

Micky Minhas:

Right.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

I mean, how did that feel?

Micky Minhas:

Yeah, so as tech companies goes, Microsoft is an older one. It was formed in the mid '70s. So at the time, it was already a 35 year old tech company, which, again, is quite old in tech years. And because of that, the culture was very much set. And in some good ways, it was great, in some ways, it needed to be revamped.

Micky Minhas:

And some of the ways it was great is Bill Gates, obviously the founder of the company, his dad is a patent attorney. And for any of those who know the firms Preston Gates, that's Bill's dad is the Gates in that. And so because of that, since Bill was the son of a patent attorney, intellectual property was something he was well aware of and the importance thereof, particularly in the software industries because you could copy things so easily and copyright law wasn't enough to protect the innovations that were truly going on in software. Patent protection was going to be much broader. Whether you could patent software or not was a big issue in the '80s and '90s, and those are battlegrounds that Bill fought.

Micky Minhas:

So I say that because there was a background of recognizing the importance of intellectual property in the culture. Certainly true at Qualcomm because it was its business model, but it was culturally important in Microsoft. But it also sort of got laxed over time. Microsoft in the '80s and '90s and early 2000s was the 800 pound gorilla. A 99% market share in the industries it was in, and with some of that comes a degree of complacency. And the Motorola lawsuit illustrated where some of those problems were that had sort of emanated from a number of years.

Micky Minhas:

But it was also about a convergence of technology. You had sort of the internet companies colliding with the telecommunication companies. And how intellectual property issues were dealt with were very different in those two ecosystems. So that certainly added to it as well.

Micky Minhas:

So I forget what your original question was anymore, but that's one of the reasons why it was so interesting. But I think the license to make significant changes was there because there was a catalyst and that catalyst was the suit that wasn't going so well and a recognition that we have to do things differently.

Micky Minhas:

So for me, it meant really changing how you dealt with inventors, what patent applications were filed on, how those patents are sort of perfected and the rights perfected, and then on licensing, how you license those patents to other parties. I don't think there were any areas that weren't somewhere between tweaked and revamped, depending upon the area we're talking about.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

And did that change a lot of what you did over your span of time there?

Micky Minhas:

It did, yeah. So I started as the chief patent counsel, right? So it was really the lawyer groups that were responsible for the patent attorneys, for the inventions that come out of there, several thousand inventions a year, every year, maybe 130, 140,000 total patents. So a very large set of patents to keep track of, budgets to deal with, a hundred thousand plus engineers who are inventing things all the time. So very much a big machine and making that big machine work.

Micky Minhas:

My position there also evolved a bit over time. As that became stabilized and sort of redone, I moved on to the licensing side and really focused on using Microsoft's intellectual property portfolio to license third parties. And more particularly, that focused on the proliferation of operating systems, and more specifically, Android around the world. And so since Microsoft had come up with Windows and a lot of those inventions in an operating system were being used in Android, those became the areas that we licensed. So I spent a good number of years licensing phones and cars and wearables and what have you with the things that have an Android operating system in it.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

That's a fascinating split between the invention versus licensing. I mean, how diverse is that portfolio between the two? Is it 50/50 between the impact it has on Microsoft or is there a different sort of split?

Micky Minhas:

Well, it's interesting because traditionally, you're filing an invention on the sorts of things that you're making in terms of your products, right? And so for Microsoft, that tended to be the operating system types, Windows, and those areas. They also had a lot of video processing, which brought me back to my roots from Qualcomm, as well as now getting into the X-Box and gaming and all of those areas. But patents are used... There's the right to exclude versus others. So looking at Microsoft's portfolio relative to its competitors, there were a number of competitors. And some of those companies are the biggest companies out there, right?

Micky Minhas:

So from a device perspective, Apple was a big competitor. From an operating system perspective, google was the big competitor. And now from a cloud perspective, Amazon is the big competitor. So these are some pretty large companies to have to go head to head against.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

What was the next step in your career path that's basically led us to the last few months?

Micky Minhas:

Sure. So as the licensing business was doing great now and Microsoft's business, it's more focused on the cloud and a little bit less on patent licensing. But things were humming along and I feel like I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish there. I've moved on to a group called the Marconi Group, which is an entity that specializes directly in intellectual property licensing in the same areas that I sort of have experience in, whether it was a video space or in the wireless spaces. Those are the areas where I'm still working with all the aforementioned companies in any of those technologies.

Micky Minhas:

But taking that role has also afforded me the time to start to give back. I've had some decent luck with the companies that I've chosen over time and it really wouldn't have happened without the education that I got here. And so I wanted to give back. And so I approached Megan. There was a [inaudible 00:21:11] conference in Seattle like maybe three years ago or so. And we met then, and it was the first time I had really reengaged with the Law School in probably over 15 years. And through conversations with her, I decided maybe now is a time to start getting more involved with the school and start sharing some of the things that I've learned over the last 20 years or so and the connections that I've made and bring them into the school so that they can teach the kids as well.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Now, as your role as the executive director for the Intellectual Property Program here, what's your goals? What's what are some of the things that really stand out to you that you hope to do over your career working with us here?

Micky Minhas:

Sure. So one of the professors when I was here was a guy by the name of Carl Jorda. And Carl had an amazing network. His background was more in the chemical spaces. But anyway, one of the things that he did when he was here and I got to experience was he brought in a lot of practitioners, sort of chief patent counsel from various companies that he was familiar with. And they would talk to us, the classes, about some of the issues that they're struggling with or problems that they had and how they were resolved, but basically, today's issues at a practical level.

Micky Minhas:

And so, he's almost my blueprint in some ways. Like I want to be able to do that for the next generation, is to show a little bit more sides of the practical sides of law. We spend a lot of time thinking about what the law is, or in the patent side, how to create the patents. What I want to bring to bear is a little bit about how the companies actually use patents, and it can be very different from one company to the next based on their business models and how patents play a role in that. And so I've really spent my first two years probably bringing in a lot of counsel, chief patent counsel or general counsel, from different companies explaining how they use intellectual property.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Close it out, what advice would you have for students that want to go into intellectual property, whether it's career path, just considering it, why it's especially important, like anything like that, why should students look into intellectual property law?

Micky Minhas:

Yeah, I think it's, I may be biased, but I think it's the most exciting area to be in. And I think particularly now, it's an extremely exciting area to be in. Because when I went to school, intellectual property was patents, copyrights, trademarks, and a bit of trade secrets. Yes, there was antitrust, but there were really no significant antitrust cases that had come down since maybe the Microsoft case in the '90s. Now, antitrust has taken on a new and very vital form of protection, not just the United States, but the Europeans are very active in it. China's very active in antitrust.

Micky Minhas:

On top of that, data. There's such a focus on data as a business model, data as a basis of artificial intelligence, data and privacy, data and governments and how it's used. And so to me, what was intellectual property in the mid '90s and what is intellectual property today has greatly expanded and I think it's a super exciting time to be here. People used to sort of talk about hard IP and soft IP and sort of refer to trademarks and copyrights as a soft IP and then someone who was a patent bar number on the hard IP side. I think I put myself in that camp of noticing and wanting those differences, but I'm telling you those lines are just totally blurred right now. These areas, especially around data and antitrust, are just such areas of rapid change that I think we'll see over the next five or 10 years. And so I think it's an extremely exciting area to be in because of how much change there'll be in these spaces.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Thanks for listening to Inside Law Missions presented by UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law. Learn more about our Intellectual Property Programs and more at law.unh.edu. Be sure to subscribe to The Legal Impact on your favorite podcast platform, including Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify