I was and am heartsick to hear of Dmitry Karshtedt’s death earlier this week, and it’s hard being composed while reading the fields of tributes pouring in about Dmitry and his incredible life. Bob Brauneis’s short, but touching elegy captures so much about Dmitry’s spirit. And Irina Manta’s recounting of their friendship was wrenchingly poignant. And then there’s the almost endless roll of memories and photographs being shared online by so, so many of his friends. Going through old photos and seeing pictures of Dmitry, in the California sun, smiling; for anyone who knew him, it’s hard.
In my own small measure of grief, I wanted to share one fond memory I have of Dmitry; the day we attended oral arguments at the Federal Circuit for the CRISPR patent dispute, back in April 2018. I had been following the litigation for a while, which by 2017 had gone up for appeal. And then in March, I received an enthusiastically miscapitalized text message from Dmitry that the case was going to be argued on April 30—Would I want to come in to D.C. to go with him? It was a trek for me—I was temporarily living in California at the time—but over further texts and e-mails, Dmitry made it seem like it was just going to be the funnest thing in the world. We’d sit together, we could grab a bite to eat and maybe a drink; I could change in his office at GW into court appropriate attire if were wearing street clothes. He even offered to meet me early for coffee if were coming in on a redeye—quite the commitment from the man because Dmitry was decidedly not a morning person.
And so I did. Honestly, it didn’t take a whole lot of convincing. Aside from having an opportunity to spend a day with my friend, I couldn’t think of anyone better—anyone more generous with his time, his expertise, his patience—to help me understand whatever nuances of Federal Circuit practice or patent law I didn’t quite get. Dmitry had a boundless sense of hospitality, of camaraderie, and love for his chosen field; I’ll forever miss it.
Meeting Dmitry at GW, both of us punchy from the early start, we joked all the way to the courthouse, practically pushing each other into the bushes, that sort of joking between boys about to do something that required forced seriousness. But it seemed to extend even we got to the courthouse. Arriving at the security desk, Dmitry remembered the security officers from his days as a clerk—who didn’t forget him either, and who ribbed him, in good humor, about some time he forgot his belt in the X-ray machine and had to spend the better part of the day adjusting his pants. Dmitry and the court officers, joking around while pods of stone-faced lawyers made their way through the scanner; an indelible reminder that Dmitry made friends with practically everyone, wherever he went.
Inside, we sat together in the galley, a middle pew, next to Sharon Begley, a reporter for STAT News. In brief breaks in the action, Dmitry gave Sharon play-by-play commentary. And, at a few of the more exciting moments during the arguments (and there were a few), Dmitry raised his eyebrows in his face of half-surprise, before breaking into a half-smile and carefully explaining why something had caught his ear.
After the hearing, Dmitry, Sharon, and I retreated to a picnic table in the Federal Circuit courtyard, going over, in detail, the arguments and what Dmitry could glean from the judges’ reception to them; he remembered almost every detail and recounted them—kindly, patiently, enthusiastically—to Sharon. I was excited. It was a big case, and I knew our comments would be featured in the newspaper the next morning, a feather in my cap. But in his conversations with Sharon, Dmitry didn’t display even a trace of ego. He was all too happy, it seemed, just to talk shop.
When it was finally all over, we retreated to some bar in Foggy Bottom for lunch and a celebratory drink—I vaguely recall Dmitry seeming to know the bartender—and we talked about just everything. We talked about the days of being back at Stanford; upcoming conferences; his excitement and (unfounded) fears about tenure; friends’ work and friends’ weddings; living in D.C. Traveling. Big plans. Small plans. It’s a long lunch and the punchiness of the morning wears off. We step outside, and I give Dmitry a bear hug and slap him on the shoulder and he does the same and the sun is shining, making our way down the street. And we were on top of the world.