From the Boards to the Bar
Theatre background equipped Philip Johnson ’70 for lawyerly success
by Matt Zencey
Considered one of the world’s pre-eminent intellectual property law experts, Philip Johnson ’70 has worked in patent law and intellectual-property rights for nearly 50 years.

His career path would probably surprise his Bucknell classmates. A biology major, Johnson didn’t consider a legal career until his senior year, when a friend challenged him to take the LSAT and see who would do better. After getting what he says was “a shockingly high” score, Johnson thought, “maybe I have an aptitude that fits with the law.”

Phil Johnson headshot
Photo: Ellen Johnson
Phil Johnson ’70 served as president of four of the major intellectual-property law associations during his long career as an attorney.
Did he ever. Johnson & Johnson, a major client for four decades, called his record of success in intellectual-property litigation “second to none.” Johnson also helped many others, such as the inventors of the heart stent, of a compound that is 1,500 times sweeter than sugar and of a rotavirus vaccine that saves hundreds of thousands of children’s lives in the developing world. He has given expert testimony in 10 congressional hearings and helped draft the America Invents Act. After becoming Johnson & Johnson’s chief intellectual-property counsel in 2000, he led the collection of a $1.75 billion settlement — then the largest in the history of the patent system. Now retired from Johnson & Johnson, he is a patent-law expert and policy consultant in New Hope, Pa.

Johnson says his success in the law and lobbying draws directly on his experience with Cap and Dagger, Bucknell’s student-led theatre group. It taught him the importance of telling a compelling story to his audience — which in his profession included judges, juries and Congress. He is also well-regarded for mentoring and coaching his colleagues — an aptitude he developed while directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream his senior year. It was an early case where he learned, “Your most enduring legacy will be the people you help to succeed.”