John Yates graduated from Duke University’s law school in 1981, the year the IBM PC was released, triggering a surge in technical development thanks to the computer’s open publication of hardware and software data. At the same time, Yates’s sister Jean founded a tech company in Silicon Valley. “I had the incredible fortune of having my sister invite me out and introduce me into the ecosystem of Silicon Valley,” says Yates. “I was able to meet the venture capitalists, leaders in the microcomputer area, the movers and shakers of that community.”
Yates, who had moved to Atlanta to practice law, realized that elements of the Silicon Valley ecosystem would benefit Atlanta’s nascent tech community and the Southeast as a whole. “There were a lot of law firms out [in California] that basically had entrepreneurs lined up around their building wanting representation,” Yates says. “To me, the real opportunity was to build that ecosystem for Atlanta and the Southeast. I saw it as a challenge, and I saw it as a great opportunity for growing a tech practice.”
Yates has blazed a trail for Atlanta’s tech ecosystem for more than 30 years. He cofounded the Southeastern Software Association, the Southeastern Medical Device Association, and the Technology Association of Georgia. He frequently speaks on related legal issues and became partner-in-charge of Morris, Manning & Martin’s technology law practice.
“The biggest challenge I’ve seen in the course of my career is the fact that technology is far ahead of the law and regulations,” Yates says. “Initially, it was the Wild West . . . now, there are a lot more questions about who really owns what, what’s the right to that technology, how does a patent fit into it, and should the government regulate it? What these companies are facing is, how do you balance complying with regulations and making advances in innovation?”
This article originally appeared in our November 2018 issue.