Five minutes with ... Christine Morgan, partner at Reed Smith
Each week Managing IP speaks to a different IP lawyer about their life and career
Welcome to the latest instalment of Managing IP’s new series, ‘Five minutes with’, where we learn more about IP lawyers on a personal as well as a professional level. This time we have Christine Morgan, partner at Reed Smith in San Francisco.
Someone asks you at a party what you do for a living. What do you say?
I try cases and kill software patents. The longer answer, which would probably bore partygoers, is that I love to persuade judges and juries by telling the story of our clients’ innovations during trial and specialise (on both sides of the issue) in litigating whether a patent is 'abstract' and ineligible for patenting under Section 101 of the US code. I also teach what may be the first US law school class on litigating Section 101 patent eligibility at Santa Clara University School of Law.
Talk us through a typical working day.
I wake up between 5am and 6am, journal to remind myself of what I’m grateful for and map out how I’m going to accomplish my goals, listen to something positive, such as a motivational speaker, grapple with the usual 'getting the kids to school' scramble in the morning (unless I’m travelling), then settle into the work day. My work day involves everything from responding to the daily deluge of emails, to giving an opening statement at trial. I also keep a close eye on everything about patent eligibility and artificial intelligence, which I’m very focused on these days. For fun (when I can squeeze it in), I box and sing.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a variety of cases at the moment, including representing a client in a series of patent cases pending in various venues throughout the US and overseas. What I enjoy most about patent cases is learning about our clients’ businesses from very accomplished people, distilling our clients’ innovations and the personal contributions to them into a story that packs an emotional punch that will resonate with a fact finder, and, of course, winning.
Does one big piece of work usually take priority or are you juggling multiple things?
Right now, I’m juggling multiple cases, but when it’s time for trial or a big hearing, that will always take priority. I try to eliminate all distractions to enable the laser-like focus required to win. Luckily, I work with a team of fantastic IP trial lawyers with whom I’ve practised law for over 20 years. When any of us are in trial, we cover for each other so we can devote our full attention to it.
What is the most exciting aspect of your role and what is the most stressful?
Going to trial is the most exciting aspect of my job, and I love it. After my most recent trial, which I finished earlier this year, I found myself volunteering to help at my colleague’s upcoming trial when I probably should have just relaxed and enjoyed a slower pace. I don’t get too stressed out these days.
Tell us the key characteristics that make a successful IP lawyer.
Passion, dynamism, credibility, and belief in your client’s case. I’ve had the unique opportunity to run moot courts for outside counsel teams getting ready to argue Section 101 patent eligibility motions and appeals. Acting in this role, I can really sense when a lawyer believes in what they are arguing, particularly when backed up with key supporting facts and law. It makes for a compelling oral argument and motivates me as the 'judge' to find for that lawyer’s client.
What is the most common misconception about IP?
That it takes an engineer to understand it. You do need lawyers with technical degrees to help work up a patent case, particularly when it comes to expert reports, and I work hand in hand with those colleagues. But you also need 'translators' and storytellers who can describe the IP in a concise and easy-to-understand manner—ones who can discuss the IP in the larger context of the client and the marketplace. I do not have a technical degree, and that has not hindered me.
What or who inspires you?
My grandmother Greta inspires me. She was an orphaned Estonian Swede who won a lottery ticket to emigrate to the US in 1937, just a couple of years shy of when the Russians invaded Estonia and occupied it for the next 50 years. She inspired in me an appreciation of resiliency. She was also a lifelong learner, picking up her fifth language (Spanish) in her 60s, which has inspired me to keep learning and growing.
If you weren’t an IP lawyer, what would you be doing?
I’d be a book author. I’ve dabbled in short-form writing, and am working on a non-fiction book outline now. When I’ll have time to write it is anyone’s guess, but that’s a goal of mine.
Any advice you would give your younger self?
Take calculated risks without worrying about what people think. When we’re young, we often get caught up in others’ perceptions of us. I’m happy with what I’ve achieved thus far in the law, but I wonder what else I might have accomplished had I been able to more effectively tune out others’ opinions.