40 Under Forty 2022



P atent litigation attorney Katherine Johnson boasts a winning combina- tion: She understands the most compli- cated technical issues and is also a skilled presence in the courtroom. This for- mula has led to several big wins for her clients, including victories at trials and in U.S. International Trade Commission investigations. Because of her track record of suc- cess, Johnson is often called on by Steptoe & Johnson to take on the highest-profile cases. As an example, Johnson second-chaired a trial team in litigation dating to late 2015 in which a company sued her firm’s cli- ent for patent infringement relating to driveshaft technology. Steptoe eventual- ly drafted a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court asking the court to determine what type of inventions are eligible for patent- ing under Section 101 of the Patent Act. If the justices hear the case, they could clarify the standard for patent eligibility. If this happens, much of the credit will go to the work that Johnson turned in during this trial. “Kate has a keen mind and a meticu- lous attention to detail,” said Jonathan Sick with McAndrews Held & Malloy, Ltd. “She has the ability to digest complex technical concepts into easy-to-under- stand components. Once a matter is en- trusted to her, you can be confident that it will be completed in a timely, thought- ful and competent manner. Once she starts investigating an issue, she is relent- less in pursuit of a complete picture of the facts.”

Johnson also served as the primary writer of an appeal to the Federal Circuit relating to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s decision in an inter partes review involving a technical consumer product. On April 8 of 2020, the Federal Circuit ruled that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board incorrectly upheld an LED patent, finding that the board’s ruling was incon- sistent with the claim language and the relevant case law. In a 15-page opinion, a three-judge panel threw out the board’s 2018 decision that upheld the validity of the company’s patent claims for an LED light fixture called a luminaire in a rare va- catur of a PTAB finding of no anticipation. Again, Johnson played a key role in this significant decision. “Kate is an exceptional lawyer,” said Brianne Straka with Quinn Emanuel Ur- quhart & Sullivan. “Early in our careers, we worked together on a very challeng- ing case for a medical device company. In that situation, Kate was always cool, calm and collected even when others on the team were not. She is smart, creative and extremely organized. Kate is one of those rare attorneys who truly understands complicated technical issues and is an ex- cellent advocate in court.” Johnson is a board member for the Co- alition of Women’s Initiatives in Law, and serves as chair of the organization’s pro- gramming committee. She also actively mentors two associates in Steptoe’s Chica- go office. In her pro bono work for Chica- go Volunteer Legal Services, Johnson has obtained judgment of adoption for several Chicago-area children and their families.

Kate is one of those rare attorneys who truly understands complicated technical issues and is an excellent advocate in court”

AGE 36

FIRM Steptoe & Johnson LAW SCHOOL University of Illinois College of Law AREA OF PRACTICE Patent litigation



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