Karin Norton ’97: Science, Technology, and the Law
Vice President and Senior Counsel at Samsung Electronics
By Andrea Strong '94
“NO ONE DOES IT ALONE,” said Karin Norton ’97, vice president and senior counsel at Samsung Electronics, and an inaugural member of Brooklyn Law School’s Women’s Leadership Circle. “I’ve been graced with some very generous and staunch believers in me. Now I feel a responsibility to pay it forward, to try to make the path a little bit easier for other women.”
To that end, Norton serves as the Washington, D.C., co-chair of Chiefs in Intellectual Property Sisterhood (ChIPs). Founded as an informal dinner group by seven female leaders of IP at Silicon Valley tech companies, ChIPs has grown into a national organization that supports women in technology, law, and policy—from high school through senior leadership.
Norton’s career path began in science. She studied biology as an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, then received her Ph.D. in human physiology from Temple University. From there, she did a two-year fellowship in biomedical research at SUNY Stony Brook in the hematology department, working on the mechanism of blood clotting and creation of artificial blood, before transitioning to the legal sector. She joined Kaye Scholer (now Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer) as a technical advisor on pharmaceutical patent litigation, and while working there during the day she attended Brooklyn Law School at night.
“My advisor, Richard Greco (a partner at the firm), had the faith and confidence in me to give me more and more responsibility,” Norton said. “His support and mentorship inspired me to go to law school. But if I’d been forced to quit my job, I would not have been able to go to law school. Brooklyn Law School’s evening program was the only way I could have done it.”
When Norton graduated, she joined Graham & James, then a well-known patent firm with a roster of clients in the biotech and pharmaceutical business. A few years later, to gain more trial experience, she moved to Kalow, Springut and Bressler, a smaller firm. She enjoyed doing litigation so much that she made her next move to a position that involved primarily trial work at the United States International Trade Commission (ITC), an independent, quasi-judicial federal agency with broad investigative responsibilities on matters of trade. Given the proliferation of new technology, ITC has become an increasingly important forum for resolving patent disputes. As senior investigative attorney at ITC’s Office of Unfair Import Investigations, Norton focused on investigating unfair trade practices in the importation of goods, primarily intellectual property matters.
In these ITC cases, “there are three parties: the plaintiff, the defendant, and the public,” Norton explained. “I represented the public. ITC does not award damages to the patent holder; rather, it has the power to direct U.S. Customs to keep the infringing product out of the United States.”
Norton said working at ITC was the best job she ever had—and the hardest.
“I was an independent third party with no stake in the litigation other than to try to get the right result,” she said. “We did our own discovery and depositions. We appeared at trial and crossexamined witnesses. We wrote our own briefs. There was one investigative attorney per case, and that was me for my cases. I was doing everything.”
Norton highly recommends government service to law school students. “The experience is unlike any I’ve had in private practice,” she said. “But it’s not for the faint of heart.”
After eight years as an investigative attorney, Norton became well known for her experience in complex IP matters and was ready to return to private practice. She began litigating ITC claims first as special counsel to Covington and Burling, and then as counsel at Sidley Austin, before she was hired by Samsung in 2010. Today, Norton oversees the company’s ITC cases, and develops policy relating to issues of intellectual property, such as fighting patent trolls.
“I love this work,” she said. “For me, the adventure just continues.”