Linda Shi – Red Spark
The grind begins at home, scheduling the day’s appointments and following up on overnight emails and requests from international clients across different messaging platforms. Upon arriving at Red Spark’s offices, she’s back to juggling intellectual property (IP) issues—along with contracts and compliance—for one of the company’s flagship marketing platforms, with a chorus of calls and mountains of paperwork interspersed throughout. On her way home, she Skypes with colleagues from her “side gig”—Kapsul, the startup company she helped cofound.
It’s a workload that would cause most to collapse on their living room couch. Only, Linda Shi still has her most important job in front of her: spending time with her one-year-old son.
As she prepares to leave Red Spark for a new, top-secret post later this fall (on the best of terms, she’s happy to note), Shi knows her plate won’t be any less full—though she is looking forward to a fresh challenge.
“This idea that you can have the perfect work-life balance has always been a bit of a myth,” Shi says. “You’re always giving something up. It’s a constant game of compromises. But I wouldn’t do anything I wasn’t passionate about.”
For Shi, product design—and the protection thereof—has long been one of those passions, the tie that binds much of her career. Owing to years of IP experience—both in private practice and in-house—Shi joined the Philadelphia-based Red Spark in 2014, with the goal of ensuring the company’s platforms were properly safeguarded.
With an underlying mission of helping clients create more strategic advertising campaigns, maximize revenue and improve customer experience, Shi works closely with Red Spark’s business and technology teams.
“We tend to think of building an IP portfolio out of specific technologies or patent, trademark, and copyright applications, but the ad tech industry is so fast-moving that the portfolio is always changing,” Shi explains. “It can take over three years for the USPTO [U.S. Patent and Trademark Office] to approve a patent, but by that time the technology has become obsolete.”
For a company like Red Spark—fast-moving, fully enmeshed in the digital ecosystem—maintaining strong IP protection goes well beyond merely filing applications to cover the company’s technology and branding. Rather, Shi advocates a multilayered approach that leverages and balances the strengths and weaknesses of other avenues including trade secrets, contractual prohibitions, exclusive partnerships, and even technological safeguards built into the company’s products.
“Those deals were really exciting and sometimes really scary,” Shi says with a laugh. “It’s something I felt ownership over, that I’d helped create tangible value and kept the integrity of our assets intact.”
Shi’s passion for results isn’t reserved for Red Spark. In 2012, she—together with her husband, an aerospace engineer by trade—founded Likuma Laboratories, an industrial design and product engineering firm. Four years later, the Likuma team spun off a separate company to pursue its own flagship product: the Kapsul W5, a sleek and efficient window air-conditioning unit that quickly garnered media buzz and over $2M in crowdfunding.
Although Kapsul was years in the making, Shi worked from day one to ensure that the eponymous product’s IP status was ironclad. According to Shi, protecting the unit’s underlying novel technology and associated design—compact, stylish and unique—was paramount.
“In terms of broader technology trends, everything is getting smaller and more user-friendly. So why do we have air conditioners that look like they did in the 1950s?” Shi posits. “We see the Kapsul as the first in a series of products that redefine home comfort. So we really had to have our IP portfolio in order, because it was just a matter of time before someone took the idea and ran with it.”
While the first Kapsul W5s won’t hit store shelves until next spring, Shi and her husband are already hard at work on the company’s next “smart and beautiful” wares.
All in the family
The daughter of two engineers—and the granddaughter of another—Shi spent the first nine years of her life in Jilin, China, before emigrating to the U.S. in 1993. Even at an early age, Shi’s professional ambitions were never in doubt.
“There’s a common joke in Asian families, that there are only two career options: engineer or doctor,” Shi laughs. “But I genuinely loved math and science, learning how to problem-solve and put things together.”
While attending Rutgers University, Shi earned a double major in Mechanical Engineering and English, crediting the latter for helping cultivate creativity and communication—two qualities she knew would aptly serve her bourgeoning love of technology and entrepreneurship.
After graduating in 2006, Shi enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She immediately set her sights on IP law, supplementing her workday studies with a part-time position as a technical advisor and law clerk for the Philadelphia firm of Volpe and Koenig (V&K).
Upon earning her J.D. in 2009, Shi joined the V&K staff full time. Over the next three years, she counseled clients on a wide range of IP matters, with a focus on mechanical systems and devices.
“Working at V&K helped me build a strong foundation for my career, and I count some of my colleagues there amongst my closest friends and mentors,” Shi says, “which is why the firm now serves as my outside counsel.”
In 2012, the same year she and her husband founded Likuma Laboratories, Shi joined the business software services company, Synygy, as an assistant general counsel in charge of intellectual property. Two years later, eager to broaden her data-privacy expertise, Shi joined Red Spark. Following the departure of the company’s original general counsel, Shi was promoted to the post in early 2015—less than a year after being hired.
As she gears up for her next professional venture, Shi can’t help but feel proud of how her first decade in the field has turned out; albeit with an eye forever trained on the next big idea.
“What I enjoy most is watching a project go from the ideation stage to completion,” Shi says. “I think my background gives me a perspective that’s somewhat unique. I’m a big believer that you have to understand the technology behind the business to provide the most value.”
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