Features

Richard Ogawa – Inphi Corporation

Silicon Valley’s Dynamic Legal Duo

When Richard Ogawa opened his email in a hotel room in Taipei, Taiwan, to find a message from the White House inviting him to meet President Obama, he thought it was a joke. Or spam. Or sent to the wrong Richard Ogawa entirely. So he ignored it.

Within minutes, a string of 202 numbers were lighting up his cellphone. It wasn’t until he got a call from a former colleague at the U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO) that Ogawa finally accepted what was happening: the president would be signing the America Invents Act, aimed at fully reforming the country’s patent laws—and he wanted this Richard Ogawa to be there.

Richard Ogawa – Inphi Corporation Vanguard Law Magazine

Within hours Ogawa was on the redeye back to San Francisco, with no time to stop at home for a shower before hopping a second overnight flight to D.C. Exhausted, but coursing with adrenaline, Ogawa arrived in time for the signing.

“I don’t remember most workdays where I’ve had eight hours of sleep the night before—but I remember that one,” Ogawa says with a laugh, his self-effacing humor on full display. “I think I got to Washington at 6 or 7 in the morning. I showered at the hotel. I took a car to meet with President Obama for the signing. And there I was. I think it was then that I finally appreciated that, after working with over 200 startup companies, prosecuting thousands of patents, and working with various Nobel Prize winners—that I represented the small against the big.”

Moving pieces

Now the general counsel for Inphi Corporation, one of the world’s leading semiconductor providers for telecommunications and data services, Ogawa says that, even eight years later, the whole thing still feels slightly surreal. His passion for intellectual property (IP) law, however, has never been in sharper focus.

The reasons, he says, are many. Nearly 800 patents, to be more specific: one for every piece of proprietary technology owned by Inphi, most of which cover the company’s patented integrated circuits and silicon photonic devices for telecommunications and datacenters.

Richard Ogawa – Inphi Corporation Vanguard Law Magazine

According to Ogawa, how a company approaches its IP strategy—deciding when and how to file with the USPTO based on industry trends, figuring out how to get new technology protected as a trade secret, ensuring the company capitalizes on products the government decides belong in the public domain—is paramount to its broader business goals.

“The fact is, even though there are some general rules, a company’s IP strategy is almost always changing,” explains Ogawa, whose 35-year career has included lengthy tenures in both corporate legal and private practice. “In our business we have copyrights, patents and trademarks, and we might pursue different ones depending on the product and where we think it’s going.”

In addition to overseeing all submissions to the USPTO, Ogawa has worked with Inphi’s IT group to institute “layer upon layer” of internal security: code and firmware on super-secure servers that only certain personnel can access, running regular audits on the company’s software to check for tampering, and establishing a stricter confidentiality and non-disclosure policy with all Inphi employees, contractors, vendors and customers.

Tangible returns

In the seven years since Ogawa first began building and bolstering Inphi’s IP portfolio, the company has grown from about 100 employees and $79 million in sales to over 600 employees and nearly $400 million in sales.

For most general counsels, such gangbusters growth would require an equivalent uptick in legal resources. Ogawa has taken a slightly different approach: Since the beginning, it’s been him and one other person—paralegal Joel Rodriguez, each of whom have been key to maintaining the legal department.

Richard Ogawa – Inphi Corporation Vanguard Law Magazine

“You can have a department where paralegals are vitally important, or you can have a department where they’re really not that important at all,” Ogawa says. “I was lucky to get one of the best ones out there in Joel.”

A onetime business administration major who took a job as a legal department administrator on the advice of a recruiter, Rodriguez showed an immediate knack for learning on the fly: filing 10Q and 10K reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission, organizing IP portfolios, helping shepherd complex mergers and acquisitions. Each new stop offering a new way to expand his comfort zone.

“It seemed like everywhere I went, I was asked to do something I had no experience with—but I never said no,” Rodriguez reflects. “I just always knew I could figure it out.  And I think that’s a big reason why I ended up where I am, using my skills in legal management.”

No IP in ‘Team’

By the time he arrived at Inphi in 2012, Rodriguez had garnered a reputation as one of the most dynamic paralegals in Silicon Valley. But there was something else he brought to the table: namely, a proprietary database for IP dockets and contracts—a system he’s been tweaking (and taking with him) everywhere he goes.

When Ogawa came aboard the following year, he saw Rodriguez’s multifaceted experience as an immediate boon (ditto the database). Once he’d prepared the first 100 or so contracts, Ogawa handed the document management reins to Rodriguez.

Richard Ogawa – Inphi Corporation Vanguard Law Magazine

That, in turn, has freed Ogawa up to concentrate on Inphi’s more pressing issues: protecting the company’s IP portfolio, strategic agreements, export compliance, helping inform long-term growth strategies—the list goes on.

More importantly, Rodriguez’s unique skillset allows Ogawa to work efficiently with Inphi’s roster of outside counsel, a cadre that includes a number of independent (read: more efficient and therefore competitive) Silicon Valley attorneys—many of whom have been on Ogawa’s Rolodex (now housed conveniently in LinkedIn) for years.

“The way we’ve set things up here, Joel and I can pretty much manage the legal issues for this public company,” Ogawa says. “There aren’t many legal departments that can say that. It’s a lean team, but we get it done.”

In the event another White House invite lands in his inbox? Rest assured Ogawa won’t be flying to D.C. alone.

Published on: May 2, 2019

regions:

categories:

Showcase your feature on your website with a custom “As Featured in Vanguard” badge that links directly to your article!

Copy and paste this script into your page coding (ideally right before the closing tag) where you want to display our review banner.

Testimonials

It was a great honor to be featured in Vanguard Law. Working with every member of the team, from the initial interview with Erin Clark, through production with Victor Martins, writing the article with Taryn Plumb and creating the final content with Dave Gushee, was a true pleasure. Everyone was very professional, enthusiastic and supportive, and their creative approach and positive attitude clearly came through in the final product.
– Kevin C. Rakowski, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel, Compliance with Radian Group Inc.
I was honored to be the subject of an article. I enjoy reading Vanguard articles and seeing how other attorneys got to their positions and see their jobs. It's also interesting to see how different law firms partner with the subjects of the articles.
– Henry Marquard, in-house counsel, Stanley Consultants Inc.
As promised in advance, my feature in Vanguard has increased my visibility within the profession and prompted more than a few people I have not communicated with recently to reconnect. One of the Italian law firms I have used in the past is now in the process of interviewing me for an article on their website and tweeting out the feature story. Activity and the number of people connecting with me on LinkedIn has soared, which is great. The Vanguard writers and editorial staff were great to work with—highly professional and made the effort to make the experience both fun and rewarding (they were also respectful of the time pressures and demands all lawyers face). I was very pleased with the experience and the final outcome. Needless to say, I have been very pleased. All in all working with Vanguard has been a very positive experience which generated good publicity for both Shawcor and myself. My sincere thanks.
– Tim Hutzul, General Counsel, ShawCor Ltd.
The piece highlighting my company, Bob Baker Enterprises, Inc., came out fabulous. Our company is in the new and used car sales and service industry. Everyone was great to work with and extremely professional. They produced a high-quality product and have provided expert assistance and guidance post-production of the article.
– Wade Poulson, General Counsel, Bob Baker Enterprises Inc.

LATEST EDITION

Fall I 2022

READ NOW

GET VANGUARD IN YOUR INBOX.

  • * We’ll never share your email or info with anyone.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.