November 2021 Cover Story - Out-Thinking and Out-Persuading With Character: The OCBA’s 2021 Harmon G. Scoville Award Winner: John B. Sganga

by Ed A. Schlatter and Deirdre M. Kelly

This year, the Orange County Bar Association has the honor of presenting the Harmon G. Scoville Award to the extremely hardworking and selfless John Sganga. This prestigious award was established in 1990, in honor of retiring Appellate Court Presiding Justice Harmon G. Scoville. The award will be presented at the OCBA Volunteer Recognition Reception on October 5, 2021.

If you are active in the OCBA, it is likely that you know, or know of, John Sganga. To know John is to be impressed by John’s (1) intellect, (2) character, and (3) work ethic. Those who work with John or know him well also appreciate John’s belief that one should enjoy the practice of law as well as the opportunities life presents to have a little fun.

John Sganga’s being named the recipient of the 2021 Harmon G. Scoville Award is a well-desired honor. John personifies the standards of the The Harmon G. Scoville Award, which is presented by the OCBA to “a member of the Orange County legal community whose career exemplifies the highest standards of the legal profession, who is widely known as a champion of the constitutional system of justice, and who has made significant contributions to the OCBA and its community.” John Sganga personifies these attributes.

John’s Exceptional Intellect
John is very bright and is known as a quick study, which proves invaluable in his chosen profession of being an intellectual property trial attorney. John has the mental acuity to understand the nuances of the most complex technologies, as well as the gift to be able to distill these complex technologies to their core for presentation to the court and lay juries. These talents permit him to communicate effectively and persuasively with C-level executives, general counsel, engineers, judges, juries, and opposing counsel.

John has many talents, but he is especially admired for his ability to win large, complex cases. Yet, whether the case is large or small, his strategy and leadership from beginning to end are unparalleled. One of John’s law partners recalls how, during a major trade secrets trial for John’s client CardiAQ, the judge called John’s cross-examination of the lead engineer of the company accused of stealing CardiAQ’s trade secrets a “work of art.”

In fact, John’s talent and dedication led him to become partner at such a young age (twenty-seven) that one of his most difficult tasks was to persuade people that this young man was already a partner at Knobbe Martens LLP.

A Man of Character With a Calm Demeanor
Mentored by his partner, former OCBA President Don Martens, John learned to always maintain his calm demeanor and to hold fast to his integrity while treating others with respect even while forcefully attacking their arguments. John’s focus is always on determining the client’s business and financial imperatives so that the outcome achieves the definition of success for the client, rather than the most impressive win for John.

John’s law partner Sheila Swaroop says of John, “[i]n all the years I have worked with John, he has managed to handle the pressures of high-stakes patent litigation with humor and a positive outlook. He has inspired me and so many others at Knobbe to give it our all for our clients, to give back to the legal community, and not to take ourselves too seriously.”

John is loyal, having been with Knobbe Martens since 1984, and is often sought to consult on both litigation and firm governance issues by his partners. John is the past chair of the Knobbe Martens litigation practice and has been an integral part of the firm’s success over the years.

John remains dedicated to his college-sweetheart wife, Liz, and his children, Jessica, Jake, and Bianca. All of his children are scholars in their own right and Jessica has followed John into the practice of law, practicing as one of John’s partners at Knobbe Martens.

John remains calm while out-thinking and out-persuading his opponents. Some believe that his persuasive abilities are enhanced by his distinctive baritone voice, of which one co-counsel in a patent case shared: “when John Sganga starts speaking, it’s like the voice of God coming through the conference line.” Regardless of whether one agrees with this characterization, there is no question that John has impressed many judges and juries with his authoritative delivery.

John’s Tremendous Work Ethic and Efforts on Behalf of the Legal Community
Rather than rely on his many advantages for success, John has passionately and energetically applied his talents, often outworking the opposition. John is tireless, with one partner recalling traveling around the country with John his first major case and taking almost 100 depositions.

John’s efforts for his clients have not been limited to the United States. Rather, as an example, in the early 2000s, John represented a company accused of infringing a dental implant patent. John wanted to show that the patent was invalid, but the patent databases and the scholarly literature contained little useful evidence. Other lawyers might have abandoned the argument and focused on other defenses, or just settled the case. Not John Sganga. John packed his bags and went to Italy, where he knew that individual oral surgeons often designed their own dental implants and commissioned local machine shops to produce them. So it was that a patent lawyer from Orange County ended up crisscrossing northern Italy on perilous mountain roads in a van packed to the brim with luggage, video equipment, deposition exhibits, a junior attorney, a court reporter, a videographer, an interpreter, two local drivers, and even opposing counsel. Opposing counsel had sought to block the depositions in Italy because of the travel costs involved, but John neutralized the argument by simply inviting opposing counsel to join the group in the van. In the end, John got the evidence he wanted in the depositions, and he won the case for his client.

The OCBA has benefited from John’s tireless efforts to advance the legal profession in Orange County and at large. In 2020, John Sganga served on the Intergenerational Task Force. He is currently a member of three sections: Alternate Dispute Resolution, Business Litigation, and Intellectual Property. He was 2016 Chair of the OCBA Masters Division. Prior to that, he served on the Masters Division Board and as Program Chair. He ran for OCBA Secretary (twice), against Robert Gerard and Kim Hubbard. John served on the OCBA Board of Directors for six years, served on the Administration of Justice Committee, was a delegate and later Chair of the OCBA’s delegation to the Conference of Delegates, and co-founded and chaired the OCBA Community Outreach Committee, which introduced the Annual Food Drive and other events to promote volunteerism by lawyers. John also served as past president of the OC Barristers (an affiliate bar for young lawyers that is no longer in existence).

John is a past President of the William P. Gray Legion Lex Inn of Court and served on the Board of Governors of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers. He has also served as an attorney representative to the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference. And was the Orange County Patent Law Association, Federal Courts Committee Chair. He has served on the OC Bar Foundation Board of Directors. He has also provided pro bono representation of the OCBA on intellectual property law issues.

Talent, Character, and Hard Work
Not surprisingly, John’s tremendous intellect, character, and hard work have led to success for John at every stage of his career and in his life.

John has secured courtroom victories of over $100 million for both plaintiffs and defendants in high-stakes technology disputes. For example, John’s work on the CardiAQ case alone resulted in a seventy-million-dollar jury verdict.

These numbers would be even higher, but a number of John’s major cases have been before the International Trade Commission, which does not have the power to award damages. For example, as lead counsel, John and the Knobbe Martens team represented one of the world’s largest dental implant companies against a competitor asserting two patents at the International Trade Commission (ITC) relating to John’s client’s best-selling dental implant. John and his team’s efforts were successful in persuading the ITC to issue an exclusion order blocking the competitor’s dental implants from being imported into the United States. This protected the profits of John’s client in a billion dollar market.

John is a frequent lecturer on IP law and litigation strategy, author of a book and numerous articles, and has taught patent litigation as an adjunct law professor. He has been recognized with numerous awards as a stand-out lawyer locally (Super Lawyers), statewide (Daily Journal “Top IP Attorneys in California”), nationally (The Best Lawyers in America, BTI “Client Service All-Star,” and Martindale Hubbell AV judicial pre-eminent rating), and internationally (IAM “World’s Leading Patent Professionals”).

In addition to the 2021 Harmon G. Scoville Award, John was elected by peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America® (2007-2022). John was also named Orange County’s 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2022 “Lawyer of the Year” for his work in intellectual property litigation, trade secrets law, and appellate practice. John was recognized by The Legal 500 “United States” for Patent Litigation (2021) and named one of the “World’s Leading Patent Professionals” for litigation in the Patent 1000 guide by Intellectual Asset Management (IAM) magazine (2015-2021). In the 2019 guide, he was commended as a “dynamo who pursues client-defined wins with incredible energy.” He was also recognized as a Patent Star in Managing IP’s “IP STARS” guide for his outstanding intellectual prowess.

Finally, if you ask John, one his greatest successes has been mentoring associates and partners at Knobbe Martens who have developed into highly skilled lawyers of integrity.

Enjoying the Practice of Law and Having a Little Fun
While he is an exceptional litigator and contributor to the legal profession, John also has an engaging personality and is a lot of fun. Everyone enjoys working with John and being part of his team.

Outside of the workplace, John loves a good game of poker and has an encyclopedic knowledge of Rodney Dangerfield jokes. John has also put his distinctive baritone to work in the movies, having done a voiceover of an announcer calling a baseball game.

John is also an excellent athlete, enjoying tennis and recently having become an avid pickle ball player. John is also a passionate skier. If you ever go snow skiing with John, you had better hope that you are in good shape and are ready for a long day at the top of the mountain skiing double-black diamond runs until the lifts close.

Soon, John expects to expand these out-of-the-office activities with his new role as grandfather.

In giving John Sganga the the 2021 Harmon G. Scoville Award, the OCBA acknowledges John’s consistent commitment to the excellent practice of law and his dedication to the legal and surrounding communities. Please join us in lauding John for his abilities and character, and thanking John for representing the very best character traits of our shared profession.

Ed A. Schlatter is honored to work with John as a Partner at Knobbe Martens, LLP. He can be reached at Ed.Schlatter@knobbe.com. Deirdre M. Kelly is 2021 OCBA Awards Chair, is a past president of the OCBA, and is Assistant Dean for Career Development at Western State College of Law. She can be reached at deirdrehorse@yahoo.com.