Dropping out of high school and never returning to finish up would strike most as an inauspicious beginning for a future lawyer. So would spending years racking up four college degrees. But Morgan Chu has never been about the expected or the expedient. Instead, he’s built a spectacular career as the nation’s top intellectual property trial lawyer by following the tiger’s instincts for channeling unruly impulses into bold and courageous moves.
Morgan was born in New York City on December 27, 1950 into a family of scholars. His father left China in 1943 to earn a PhD in chemical engineering at MIT where Morgan’s mother was studying economics. Eldest brother Gilbert is a Stanford professor teaching biochemistry and medicine. Second brother Stephen Chu, also a onetime professor at Stanford and UC Berkeley, was appointed Energy Secretary by President Obama in 2009.
Growing up in such long shadows seems to have prompted Morgan to stray early from the scholarly path. Chu’s family moved to Orange County when he was a teenager. At the age of 15 he dropped out of high school to bum around the East Coast. During that period he was one of seven boys who set a Guinness world record of 22 hours 11½ minutes for traveling through every New York subway station in the shortest time on a single fare.
Despite his wayward years Chu managed to enter UCLA at the age of 16. He earned his keep as a sorority hasher while gorging on the university’s wide assortment of academic offerings. After five years a concerned dean’s office prodded Chu into settling on an interdisciplinary major in urban educational policy so he could graduate with a minimum number of additional units. Chu devoted four more years to adding three more degrees at UCLA and Yale before earning a Harvard law degree at the age of 26.
Chu clerked for a federal judge at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for a year before taking a lucrative position as an associate at the Century City firm of Irell & Manella. The firm had no intellectual property practice until Chu successfully represented one of the firm’s clients in what turned out to be the first known patent infringement trial involving software code. Chu’s rise in the firm was unusually swift. He made partner in 1982, only five years after joining. In 1997 he became one of the firm’s co-managing partners.
Chu followed up his pioneering patent trial victory with several more in the IT field, typically representing the plaintiff David against a Goliath defendant with more than his share of jury verdicts. His first monster trial victory came in 2002 when he won a $500 million jury verdict for City of Hope against Genentech. His biggest monetary result for a plaintiff to date was securing a $1 billion settlement for Texas Instruments from Samsung Electronics under a case filed with the International Trade Commission.
Chu has come to embrace his family’s scholarly tradition, showing a propensity for smelling the intellectual roses along the way. In his years as a UCLA undergrad Chu was a co-founder of the Asian American Studies Program. At Harvard Law School Chu edited the Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Law Review. Even after starting his fast-track law career Chu worked for six years on a successful effort to win reversal of a death-row inmate’s conviction. He continues to lecture at many of the nation’s leading law schools. He and wife Helen have endowed scholarships at UCLA, Harvard and the City of Hope’s Grad School of Biological Sciences.
Chu and Helen live in Los Angeles. In his free time Chu enjoys jogging and swimming.