We can finally confess something that’s been bugging us for several months. We’ve been picking Litigators of the Week for a little more than a year, and we’ve never selected a woman. It wasn’t because we didn’t want to, or because we weren’t looking. We were. In fact, it’s been surprising and more than a little disturbing to see how few women are leading the cases we cover at the Litigation Daily. (For a provocative discussion of the challenges that women litigators face, check out Amy Kolz’s 2007 American Lawyer story “ Obstacle Course.”)
That makes our pick for this early edition of Litigator of the Week all the more satisfying. Dianne Elderkin of Woodcock Washburn led the trial team that on Monday won what is considered to be the biggest patent infringement verdict ever: $1.67 billion for Johnson & Johnson’s Centocor Ortho Biotech unit, which sued Abbott Laboratories in the Eastern District of Texas for infringing a patent co-owned by Centocor and New York University. The jury concluded that Abbott’s blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira–which accounted for fully 15 percent of the company’s revenue last year–infringed Centocor’s patent. Damages pile up pretty fast on a product that generates $4.5 billion a year. Here’s our story about the verdict, which includes links to our previous coverage of the case and to the jury form.
Johnson & Johnson would not permit Elderkin to comment, perhaps because it’s engaged in a multifront litigation battle with Abbott over rheumatoid arthritis treatments, and Abbott has announced that it will challenge the East Texas verdict. Elderkin’s opponents were Bill Lee of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and David Beck of Houston’s Beck Redden & Secrest. According to a court transcript, Marshall, Texas, federal district court judge T. John Ward complimented the legal skills on both sides, comparing the trial to the “finals of Wimbeldon.”
Here’s what we can tell you about Dianne Elderkin. She got interested in patent law while she was still a law student at George Washington University, then went to work as a patent lawyer at DuPont for nine years. In 1987, she was part of a wave of DuPont lawyers to join Woodcock Washburn–becoming the firm’s first female associate, according to John Bringardner’s prescient 2006 IP Law & Business profile of the firm. Elderkin, who specializes in biomedical and pharmaceutical patent cases, credits senior partners at Woodcock Washburn with teaching her how to try jury cases.
After Monday’s verdict, it’s pretty clear they did a good job.