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From Morgan Chu’s law firm office in Century City, you can’t help but notice the wall of windows overlooking the lush Los Angeles Country Club golf course and, in the distance, a view of the spectacular Getty Museum. Chu’s office includes its own eclectic array of artifacts — a Curious George stuffed monkey, an oddly oversized molecular model, and a photo of Chu’s wife in a lovely ballet pose. But then your eye settles on some doodles that Chu has made on a Dry Erase board. Instead of scribbling case notes or citations, Chu has casually sketched in magic marker a whimsical drawing in the style of Marc Chagall. Uncanny artistic ability aside, leave it to Chu to express his “fantasy of imagination,” which is how he describes what’s at the heart of his office sketchings. Circulating in the super-charged universe of patent infringement for state-of-the-art technology, this is a man who once had the chutzpah to bring knitting needles and oven mitts to a court trial, a decidedly low-tech exhibit that was intended to illustrate a point he was making about creating computer programs. Jurors embraced the simple visual aids during the 1986 trial and voted for Chu’s client, Santa Monica-based Candle Corp., in a patent infringement case against Boole & Babbage Inc. In a 1994 patent dispute against Microsoft Corp., Chu used a “sliding yellow window” theme during the trial to describe data compression that was so successful that even defense expert witnesses started using it. In an early defeat for Bill Gates, Microsoft ended up paying $120 million to Chu’s client, Stac Electronics. Chu’s offbeat use of household items as courtroom exhibits and homespun charm have led to a stunning winning streak while reaping hundreds of millions of dollars for his clients, which have included the City of Hope, AT&T Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Times Mirror Co. and Nissan Motor Co. Serving as co-counsel for plaintiff Texas Instruments Inc., Chu played a role in winning a settlement topping $1 billion for Texas Instruments against Samsung. Wearing a trademark bow tie that informs his self-description as a teacher, Chu for years has demonstrated an ability to connect with judges and jurors on pivotal issues, in no small part by paying attention to the details. “It was not overlooked by me,” he says of the Candle Corp. trial from nearly two decades ago, “that there were a couple of women on that jury who did knitting.” Despite his courtroom triumphs, Chu, a partner at Los Angeles’ Irell & Manella, still lives in the house he bought back in his days as an associate. He purchased a Mercedes only after he became a co-managing partner at Irell and other partners suggested that “people might get the wrong idea” about the firm if he continued tooling around town in his brown Volkswagen Rabbit, says Jonathan Steinberg, one of Chu’s partners. Now Chu is gearing up for another high-stakes patent infringement battle. This time around, he’s representing TiVo, the pioneering maker of that little black digital recording box that allows television viewers to pause live TV, watch the end of a show while recording the first part and decide after the fact to record after a show has begun. TiVo claims in a lawsuit that EchoStar Communications Corp., the parent company of satellite TV provider Dish Network, infringed on TiVo’s multimedia time-warping system patent, which allows viewers to have their way with television broadcasts. Jury selection is expected to begin in October in the Eastern District of Texas. The TiVo case has all the earmarks of a made-for-primetime legal drama: A brilliant, charismatic lawyer takes on a tough case that could bring about a very public end to his string of courtroom victories. It even has its own built-in audience. The stakes are so high that the question of who will control the future of digital video recorders, one of the hottest new technologies, is up for grabs. “The thing about TiVo’s products, which is true of many successful consumer products, is that they can be copied pretty easily. You can probably buy all of the pieces off the Internet and put them together,” says Henry Bunsow, an IP litigator at Howrey Simon Arnold & White in San Francisco. “It’s not like there’s a trade secret no one can figure out,” adds Bunsow, who is not involved in the TiVo v. EchoStar litigation. “That’s why the patent is so important — to prevent competitors from making the same product cheaper, driving the cost of the products down and taking away the motivation for companies like TiVo to continue to innovate and make products.” Rachel Krevans and Harold McElhinny, partners at Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco who are representing EchoStar, declined to comment on the litigation. Steven Caulk, a spokesman for the company, says EchoStar has “not violated any patents, and we will continue to defend vigorously against the complaint.” While some legal experts believe that Chu has an uphill battle on his hands, he merely smiles and shakes his head. The clear suggestion is that those who believe the TiVo case will fall are competitors engaging in a little wishful thinking. “First [TiVo] started out holding all of the cards, then bigger, richer, more powerful companies used to getting their way in the world came in,” says Chu. “TiVo is a small company among giants. It’s a David against many Goliaths.” Chu had handled a few matters for TiVo, which is based in Alviso, California, before he was approached about the EchoStar case. His first introduction to the company involved sitting around a table and being part of a lively conversation. “Here was a group of people who said, ‘Let’s come up with an idea,’ and it led to this new concept,” he says. “They’re bright, creative, interesting people.” Through a company spokesman, Matthew Zinn, TiVo’s general counsel, declined to comment for this article either about Chu or the pending litigation. For his part, Chu says that he tends to take cases that fuel his enthusiasm. “I usually feel quite passionately about the case, and it’s not easy because we always have able opponents,” he says. “But it doesn’t mean I don’t have a great, fun time.” Elliot Brown, another partner at Irell & Manella, jocularly describes Chu as an “accomplished juvenile delinquent” who possesses the calm of a Zen master. “Morgan is smart and fearless. He doesn’t get stressed about things that lawyers normally get stressed about,” says Brown. “Part of being at the top of your field, whether you’re an artist, an athlete, a scientist, is an appreciation of how it all fits into the bigger picture of humankind. And Morgan has this very healthy perspective on what we do as lawyers, which is what maintains his good humor and ability to be so creative. It gives him a tremendous advantage over other attorneys.” Chu, who grew up in New York, was a bright but bored student who dropped out of high school. After moving to Los Angeles, he later badgered the admissions office at UCLA into accepting him despite his lack of a diploma. “I guess I was lucky,” he says. “Someone decided to make an exception.” He liked it so much and stayed so long, the university practically had to kick him out, he says. Chu emerged with an alphabet soup of degrees: a B.A. in political science and an M.A. and Ph.D. in urban studies. He later added to those with a master of studies in law from Yale and a law degree from Harvard. “What’s wrong with a life where you can get up late if you want to, learn something you like, and every four weeks or so, you can take a few exams?” says Chu. UCLA, with its park-like setting and array of lectures, sports events, movies and socializing, proved hard to resist. “You get to wear the clothes you like and you get to eat pizza at 3 a.m.,” recalls Chu. “What’s wrong with this picture?” His status as a perennial student also allowed Chu to become an active member of a group that prodded UCLA administrators into creating an ethnic studies department. “We got to protest, pound tables, write letters,” Chu says. “It was fun.” Even as a lawyer, Chu approaches trials with the posture of a laid-back but inquisitive college student. “In case after case, I’m learning new things or learning how things work, usually from people on the cutting edge of some area,” he says. Having fun is another recurring theme for Chu, even though what passes for fun may not look so enticing to others, including some of his fellow attorneys. In 1978, two years out of law school, Chu was handling various matters for Mattel Inc., the toy company, when a local inventor claimed that computer-generated chirping noises produced by a hand-held Mattel game violated his patent. Mattel’s general counsel insisted that Chu, despite his lowly status as an associate at Irell & Manella, become the lead trial counsel on one of the first cases involving a portable electronic game that chirped via a computer chip. The fact that Chu’s firm had no patent department did not stop the energetic associate or dissuade the client. The firm purchased a library of patent law books, which Chu sat down and read cover to cover. During the trial, he prevailed on every issue. In the years that followed, the soft-spoken lawyer has approached each new trial by alternating between his roles as a student and a teacher, first gaining a command of the pertinent technology and then finding ways to instruct and connect with jurors. “Sometimes early on in a case, we have some working ideas of the way to teach certain concepts,” says Chu. “Sometimes an idea will come to mind in the middle of a deposition. And then there are refinements. Good models are always refined.” Those ideas are the twinkle in his eye, which reflect Chu’s very essence, says Steinberg, one of his partners. “I think that the work and the pressure, for whatever reason, don’t weigh heavily on Morgan’s shoulders because he has a way of thinking about things in a positive way,” says Steinberg. “I’ll even say there’s a sense of pleasure and a joy in his work because it’s exciting to him. And that feeling of pleasure is very infectious.” Kathy Braidhill is a freelance journalist in Pasadena.

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