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Beyond the Office: Soong likes to go outside his comfort zone

Zosan “Sam” Soong on his Kawasaki. Courtesy Zosan Soong

Patent attorney Zosan “Sam” Soong understands how one can fall in love with an inanimate object. That’s how he feels about his Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS, although this is only his second summer of riding a motorcycle.

Referring to it as his “dream bike” for this stage of his motorcycle riding, Soong explained: “It looks so cool and has several features like anti-lock brakes and a slipper clutch, which are typically found only on high-end sports bikes.”

“Part of the attraction of riding is the focus it requires,” Soong said. “Your whole mind has to be on driving.”

With an emphasis on safety, including an armored jacket and pants, and a full-face helmet, he said there are two fears one must overcome when riding a motorcycle — speed and cars.

“When you are on a bike, it feels like you are going faster than you really are — 20 miles per hour can feel fast when there is no protective structure around you,” he said. The other fear is riding in traffic. “Cars come really close. In the beginning, I felt like a swimmer in shark infested waters.”

Outside the comfort zone

Soong first toyed with the notion of getting a motorcycle about eight years ago, on a family excursion to Toronto when he saw two men ride their motorcycles onto the Fast Ferry. He took action on his idea in the summer of 2012, participating in a safety riding clinic, and gaining experience on a used beginner bike.

“I didn’t even know what the clutch was,” he admitted. “I never drove a standard transmission. This was definitely beyond my day-to-day experience.”

Now he understands how to operate a clutch and appreciates the benefits of anti-lock brakes.

This is his first summer with his Kawasaki, and the first with enough experience that he may take some longer rides — to Naples and the Finger Lakes.

Soong seems to be intent on pushing himself beyond his comfort zone.

School and career

Soong spent much of his childhood in Penfield while his father worked as an engineer at Xerox.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Cornell University in 1982 but proceeded to law school, a change of career direction.

“I realized that I wanted a career outside the laboratory where I could work with a wide range of people,” he said.

While at George Washington University School of Law, he got involved in an intellectual property moot court competition. Not only did he do well in the competition, he discovered he liked focusing on intellectual property, particularly patents.

His first job out of law school in 1987 was at Hedman, Gibson, Costigan & Hoare, a small IP firm in Manhattan, where Soong drafted and prosecuted patent applications and assisted the partners in IP litigation.

It was during this time period he met his wife, Grace, who was also working in New York. After they married, Soong took a position as an associate at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, a large IP firm in Washington, D.C., where he worked from 1989 to 1991.

Soong said he always had some interest in returning to the Rochester area, so when his father let him know there were in-house counsel positions open at Xerox, he pursued the opportunity and began his 22-year tenure with the Xerox Intellectual Property Law Department, where he is currently senior patent counsel.

He acknowledges his career in patents is partially attributable to the boon in technology at the time he graduated, with the greatly increased focus on patents sparked by the formation in 1982 of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (which handles patent disputes at the appellate level).

A way to help college-bound students and parents

With two children in the Pittsford School District, Soong has developed a keen interest in the school system and guiding parents through the process of college selection with their children and helping the students with selecting a college major/career.

His son, Taylor, is enrolled at SUNY Buffalo to study mechanical engineering starting this fall.

“I learned so much through the application process,” Soong said. “For example, admission statistics can vary significantly for different majors at universities. And without determining a major in advance, students may not end up at the right college for their ultimate goal.

“Anytime someone changes majors or transfers to a different college, there is a great potential to not only miss development opportunities, but to face a different set of requirements and possibly a loss of credits, which translates to additional time and money. That’s why I wanted to create a program to share my lessons learned with other parents,” he said.

In April 2013, Soong initiated, helped organize and served as moderator for a panel discussion focused on the college admission process from the parents’ perspective. The panel included several parents, an admissions officer from a local college, and a Pittsford guidance counselor. The discussion covered topics such as college admission rates, declaring a major versus being un-declared, practical ways to explore careers and college majors, and college admission tips.

Next year, Soong is helping the Pittsford PTSA plan another parent session — more than 160 people attended the first.

Running for the school board

In conjunction with his active participation in the PTSA, Soong became interested in joining the Pittsford School Board. Again demonstrating his willingness to move beyond his comfort zone, he walked through many Pittsford neighborhoods and knocked on doors to campaign for a seat.

“I never ran for a class office in high school or college, but I have new respect for anyone seeking public office,” he said.

He was up against two candidates — one an incumbent — for two open seats. However, he did not garner enough votes to win either seat.

He admitted that the purchase of his dream bike this past April may have distracted him from the campaign somewhat.

“But it was a great learning process,” Soong said, adding that he does not regret his campaign efforts. “It was a great adventure.”