Name: John Gartman
Age: 42
Firm: Fish & Richardson
Biggest Case: Bell Communications Research v. Marconi Systems
J.D.: University of Texas
Career Goal (as a kid): scuba diver

John Gartman’s personal docket is overflowing with both business and legal skills. Let’s talk business first.

In 1998 John Gartman wanted to move to San Diego to be closer to his family, but he didn’t want to leave Fish & Richardson. He had been a partner at the Silicon Valley office of the Boston firm for five years and had established a strong high-tech client base. Gartman knew it was a gamble, but he persuaded the firm to let him start and run a San Diego office.

The gamble paid off. In less than four years, Gartman converted the out-of-the-way office into the firm’s second-largest outpost, where he handles big-name clients like Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. and local clients such as Thermo Gamma-Metrics. Gartman, 42, the office’s managing partner, has brought in 22 lawyers. Within the next year or so, he expects that figure to reach 60.

“The [area] wasn’t even on the map as far as litigation goes until John moved there,” says firm president Peter Devlin, a partner in the Boston office. “Now it’s one of the more important centers for litigation.”

Gartman’s success doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He is Fish & Richardson’s leading rainmaker. According to the firm, he brought in $18 million last year.

After graduating from the University of Texas with an electrical engineering degree and attaining a law degree from his alma mater in 1986, Gartman served as a clerk to Judge Giles Rich of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. In 1990 he joined Phoenix’s Brown & Bain, where he handled technology litigation. He made partner just two years later, but in 1993 he joined Fish & Richardson with seven other lawyers.

Gartman solidified his reputation in the firm in 1997 when he successfully defended Adobe Systems Inc. in a patent infringement suit brought by Quantel Inc. Following a succession of patent suit victories overseas, the Newbury, U.K.–based Quantel targeted Adobe for its first U.S. case, claiming Adobe Photoshop, a widely used graphics program, infringed five of its patents. Quantel sought more than $138 million in damages.

Gartman threw himself into the case. He put in five 350-hour months running a team of five lawyers, with another 20 assisting. At trial, he argued that Quantel had taken technology from computer graphics pioneers at the New York Institute of Technology. He showed evidence via computer software demonstrations, translating their importance to the courtroom in plain English. After a nine-day trial, it took the jury only four hours to decide that Quantel’s patents were invalid and did not infringe Adobe’s patents.

One of Gartman’s first big cases out of San Diego never even made it to a jury. In 2000 he successfully defended Marconi Systems Inc. against four patent infringement suits brought by Bell Communications Research Inc. With close to $400 million in treble damages at stake, Bell dismissed two of the patents from the suit a month before the scheduled trial. And following a Markman hearing on the remaining patents and a devastating opinion issued by the trial judge, Bell asked the court to enter a judgment of noninfringement rather than go ahead with the trial. Bell has since appealed the Markman ruling.

In 15 years of trial work Gartman has lost only one jury trial. That was in late 2001 to Broadcom Corp. in a suit against Intel. The loss didn’t seem to bother Peter Detkin, who was until recently Intel’s assistant general counsel. “John is an excellent communicator — good at understanding technology and explaining it in a way juries can grasp,” he says.

Gartman serves on the Fish & Richardson’s management committee, but the courtroom is where he gets his adrenaline rush. “When you’re as competitive as I am,” he says, “that’s how you want to live.”