“If I had to choose
between singles tennis and a team sport like basketball, I’d pick basketball,” says Morgan Chu, an intellectual property attorney at Irell & Manella since 1977. “With bet-the-company litigation, it’s a team effort, and any recognition I’ve received belongs to that wonderful group of people,” says Morgan Chu. 

As co-managing partner of the firm from 1997 to 2003, Chu and his team have won payments for clients totaling over $5 billion. One of the highlights of Chu’s impressive litigation record was representing TiVo in a series of disputes over its patented digital video recording (DVR) technology. The defendants ranged from Echostar (now known as Dish Network) to Microsoft to Verizon, who had been using the technology without paying TiVo’s licensing fees. Chu and his team won a total of $1.6 billion from the defendants in these cases and, Chu notes, “TiVo was a very small company and these cases validated their intellectual property, their contributions to innovation.”

Not content to rest on his laurels, Chu now chairs the firm’s litigation group and continues to seek out complicated high-stakes litigation. He has four cases set for trial in the rest of this year, across the U.S.: representing Skechers against Converse in Washington, D.C.; the University of Wisconsin’s Alumni Research Foundation against Apple in Madison, Wisconsin; M.I.T. and the University of Massachusetts, as well as several research institutes and the biotech company Alnylam, in a dispute in Boston; and a small company called CoNKwest in Virginia in a patent dispute over their work isolating blood cells that could be used to treat cancer. “The cases are all different, all fascinating and challenging,” says Chu. “And all an enormous amount of fun for the whole team.”

Chu’s enthusiasm for his work extends to his activities with Public Counsel, the largest pro bono law firm in the United States, where he has served on the board of directors since 1993 and the executive committee since 1995. With Public Counsel, Chu and his firm represent young immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally in deportation proceedings—often 16 years old or younger and fleeing gang violence. 

“Picture the court proceeding,” Chu says. “There’s the judge and the equivalent of a prosecutor, a highly trained immigration lawyer for the government who wants to deport a 14-year-old girl from Central or South America. She sits alone and she doesn’t have a lawyer. What’s wrong with this picture?”

Chu and Public Counsel are also currently pursuing another case, one against the Compton School District on behalf of students who have suffered numerous hardships in their lives, from violence in the home and on the street to negligent foster care and homelessness. Rather than receive help from the school, these same students have faced academic repercussions, including suspension or expulsion.

“We believe the school district has an obligation to provide the setting where real education can take place,” says Chu. “These students have been traumatized and handicapped by their environment. In a sense, it’s the same as kids who are handicapped and in a wheelchair: It’s a very good thing our society says that schools have to build them ramps so that they have equal access to education. Traumatized students need a ramp to education, too.”