Cracks in the 101 architecture?

I read the Ultramercial opinion and the hand-waving.  Here’s what’s going on:  the court realizes that if you read the statute literally, 101 is not a defense.  On the other hand, if you reason that, somehow, it is a defense, then it is subject to the presumption of validity.  To avoid that, the court is reasoning that this judicial exception to 101 is “different” than everything else — including utility, which is in 101.

Read.  The. Statute.  Judicial activism at its worst by the Supreme Court is causing good judges everywhere to ignore the Constitution.

And let me be clear:  there are doctrines — constitutional avoidance being one of them — which a court might be able to use to come up with some sort of rational reading of 101 to be limited by the Constitution, but that tortuous path is very, very different than this nonsense.

Rant over.

Federal Circuit Vacates and Remands Death-penalty Sanctions under Rule 37

In Loops, LLC v. Phoenix Trading, Inc. (Fed. Cir. Nov. 13, 2014), in a non-precedential opinion authored by Judge Dyk (with Judges Taranto and Chen), the court affirmed in part the striking of an answer due to several issues.  First, the patentee had testified falsely at her deposition about a key document.  Second, it held that a key document should have been produced in discovery, but had been withheld. However, the district court improperly based its sanction on other conduct, requiring remand.

There’s not a lot new here, but because rule 37 orders are not appealable before final judgment, it is unusual to see them even discussed by the court, and so I note the case for you here.

(And, yes, the Reines matter will be up soon. It’s been a busy week.)

Part 1 of a Full Analysis of the Reines Decision: The Procedural Rules (edited)

(I clerked for Chief Judge Rader ending 18 months ago.  Full disclosure done.)

The Federal Circuit’s Rules.

Under the Federal Circuit’s rules on attorney discipline (here), unless a disciplinary matter arises in connection with a pending case (e.g., I make a frivolous legal argument in an appeal, in which case the panel hearing the case deals with it), a standing panel handles disciplinary matters. Specifically Rule 4 provides:

(c)  Standing Panel on Attorney Discipline.

(1)  The Standing Panel shall conduct proceedings in any matter in which disbarment, suspension, or a monetary sanction over $1000 may be considered, or in any matter referred by a merits or motions panel.

(2)  The Standing Panel shall consist of three judges, at least two of whom shall be active judges, appointed by the Chief Judge. The Chief Judge may serve as a member of the Standing Panel. The initial appointments shall be for one, two, and three year terms, so that the members’ terms are staggered. Thereafter, a member shall be appointed for a three-year term. A member who has served on the Standing Panel for three years shall not be eligible for appointment to another term until three years after termination of his or her last appointment

(3)  The chairperson of the Standing Panel shall be the senior active judge.

The panel has authority to issue a show-cause order.  Rule 5(b).

The panel must issue a decision.  Rule 5(f) (“At the conclusion of a proceeding, a panel shall issue a final order in the matter. The order may direct the attorney or the Clerk to send a copy of the order to all other courts and agencies before which an attorney is admitted….”).

That decision is then afforded at least two subsequent reviews:  after the panel decision, then rules regarding en banc hearings kick in:

An attorney may file a petition for rehearing by the panel or a combined petition for rehearing by the panel and suggestion for rehearing by the active judges of the court, or a majority of the active judges may order that a disciplinary matter be heard or reheard by them. Such a hearing or rehearing is not favored and ordinarily will not be ordered except when necessary to secure or maintain uniformity of the court’s decisions or when the proceeding involves a question of exceptional importance. Any such petition shall be filed within 30 days of the date of the panel’s final order. The procedures governing a petition for rehearing or a combined petition/ suggestion will otherwise be in accordance with the provisions of Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure 35 and 40 and Federal Circuit Rules 35 and 40.

What Happened Here?

No panel ever issued a show cause order; it was issued listing every active judge (except obviously CJ Rader).  (The show cause order is attached to the end of the en banc opinion, here.)  Thus, from the start the court was not following its own procedure.

Then, rather than issuing a panel decision, which would be subject to a motion for panel rehearing and rehearing en banc, without notice to Reines (that I could see) the court short-circuited the procedural safeguards in its own rules and issued an en banc decision.  The rules on attorney discipline do not permit, so far as I can see, this process.  Only after the panel decision do the ordinary rules that allow for sua sponte en banc proceedings kick in.

So what?  Well, this is a disciplinary proceeding. They ruin careers.  One argument, no appeal?  No court in the land permits that that I’m aware of, and certainly no state.

Beyond that, what could he have done?  He had in his brief said that he didn’t think an evidentiary hearing was necessary, but offered to appear.  Had the court indicated that it was eliminating all rehearing rights, perhaps he would have expressly requested for a hearing.

But putting that to the side, the Court from the beginning did not follow its own rules in a quasi-criminal proceeding.

Would the outcome have been the same?  Who knows.  Does it raise questions about due process?  I think so.

The substance is also interesting.  More to come.

FTC Extracts Settlement from Notorious “Troll;” Seeks Public Comments

According to the FTC’s complaint, MPHJ Technology Investments LLC acquired patents relating to network computer scanning technology.  Nothing wrong with that.  But then it sent letters to thousands of small businesses asserting that they were likely infringing its patents and so needed a license.  Perhaps nothing wrong with that (if true).  But, MPHJ also allegedly falsely represented that other companies had already paid thousands of dollars for licenses.

The FTC also alleged that MPHJ’s law firm, Farney Daniels, P.C., authorized letters on its letterhead be sent to about 4,800 small businesses. Those letters threatened a patent suit if the recipient did not respond to the letter within a two-week letter, and included a purported complaint for patent infringement. However, the FTC alleged that there was no intention—and no preparations—to file those suits, and none were filed.

The FTC filed a complaint to stop this, available here.  The agreement containing a consent order (which it seems is subject to public comment) is available here.  It would impose $16,000 in fines for every inappropriate letter.  In addition, it prohibits these communications (sorry for the auto numbering errors).

    1. that a particular Patent has been licensed to a substantial number of licensees,
    2. that a particular Patent has been licensed at particular prices or within particular price ranges, or
    3. otherwise concerning the results of licensing, sales, settlement, or litigation of a particular Patent,

    unless the representation is non-misleading and, at the time such representation is made, Respondents possess and rely upon competent and reliable evidence sufficient to substantiate that the representation is true;

    B.  Make any representation in a Patent Assertion Communication, expressly or by implication, about the licenses for a Patent or the responses of recipients of Patent Assertion Communications unless the representation is non-misleading, and, at the time the representation is made, Respondents possess and rely upon competent and reliable evidence that substantiates that the representation is true;

    C.  Make any representation in a Patent Assertion Communication, expressly or by implication, that Respondents or an Affiliate have taken any action with respect to the filing of a Lawsuit, including initiating a Lawsuit, unless the representation is true and non-misleading; or

    D. Make any representation in a Patent Assertion Communication, expressly or by implication, that Respondents or an Affiliate will take any action with respect to the filing of a Lawsuit, including

    1. that they will initiate a Lawsuit;
    2. that they will initiate a Lawsuit if the recipient of a Patent Assertion Communication does not agree to a license, pay compensation, or otherwise respond to the Patent Assertion Communication as requested;
    3. that they will initiate a Lawsuit imminently or within a specified time; or
    4. that they will initiate a Lawsuit imminently or within a specified period of time if the recipient of a Patent Assertion Communication does not agree to a license, pay compensation, or otherwise respond to the Patent Assertion Communication as requested;

    unless at the time such representation is made, Respondents have decided to take such action and possess and rely upon competent and reliable evidence sufficient to substantiate that they are prepared to and able to take the action necessary to make the representation true. Evidence that an action was not taken because of a change in circumstances or information obtained subsequent to making a representation covered by this Subpart I.D, including a change in the decision by a client on whose behalf a representation was made on whether to initiate a lawsuit, shall be considered in determining whether a representation was substantiated at the time it was made.

    Provided that, for purposes of Subpart I.D of this order, a statement made in a Patent Assertion Communication that Respondents

    (1) believe the recipient of the letter is or may be infringing a patent; (2) believe the recipient does or may need a license to a Patent; or

    (3) reserve their rights under the Patent with respect to the recipient’s conduct

    shall not be considered, in and of itself, to be a representation that Respondents will initiate a Lawsuit.

Of course, this is a good development, though probably not of enormously broad impact.

The FTC’s press release is here.

Wild Inaccuracies in CAFC’s Opinion on Reines

This is the only post before I do a full analysis of the Reines opinion, but word needs to get out: it’s wrong.  I’m shocked — baffled is a better word actually — at what the Court did.

I’ll begin with this passage from the Court’s “en banc” opinion (more on that later) since it’s the easiest thing to deconstruct for you so far.  The court wrote:

It [the email in Ex. 38] suggested that his special relationship with the court should be taken into account. Respondent touted his role as chair of this court’s Advisory Council, and stated that his “stature” within the court had helped “flip” a $52 million judgment in favor of his client and that he “would love to help [the recipient of his message] do the same.” Reines Ex. 38.

The court did not quote email exhibit 38. In fact, the Court both misrepresents what the email says, and its “interpretation” makes absolutely no sense.  Here is the material text of Exhibit 38:

Paul, I saw the unfortunate verdict in ND Cal in the Power Integrations case. I call to offer assistance in two ways. I can help in the district court. No one knows this court better or has a better relationship with the bench. I have chaired the ND Cal Patent Rules committee for many years and am viewed as an authority on all-things-patent by this bench. You will have maximum credibility. Second, I am a leading Federal Circuit advocate. Just yesterday Chief Judge Rader sent me an email reporting how impressed the Federal Circuit judges were in appeals I argued Tuesday. In one of those cases I helped flip a $52 million verdict. I would love to help you do the same. Yesterday’s email [from Chief Judge Rader] is below. Please keep it to Fairchild. I have served the Federal Circuit as Chair of its Advisory Council for many years. That obviously speaks to my stature at that court.

Where to begin.  Putting to the side the fact that it obviously doesn’t say what the court said — he did not say his stature helped flip a jury verdict — it also cannot be reasonably read that way:  he refers to an oral argument that had just occurred two days prior, and says he helped flip the verdict.  Wow!  How did he know 2 days after argument that the case had been reversed?

It hadn’t been two days. He had “flipped” the verdict in a JMOL before the district court.  The Federal Circuit’s characterization of the evidence — and this seems to be the key piece — is flatly wrong.  This is outrageous.

And there is more.

Court Publicly Reprimands Ed Reines, Recipient of Email from then-Chief Judge Rader (to be updated)

By David Hricik

(Note:  yesterday when writing this, it struck me as odd that this was en banc (I don’t think that’s procedurally proper and it surely deprives Reines of any “appeal,”)  and some of the facts, upon critical thought, don’t make a lot of sense. I’m going to read the source documents.  Click on “ethics” above to keep reading.)

In early June, 2014, the Federal Circuit in an unusual per curiam order ordered Ed Reines to show cause as to why he should not be sanctioned for forwarding an email sent to him by then-Chief Judge Rader.  The Federal Circuit today issued an en banc per curiam decision publicly reprimanding Mr. Reines for his actions.  The opinion, In Re Edward R. Reines, is here.

The email from Chief Judge Rader that began the events reads:

Ed,

On Wednesday, as you know, the judges meet for a strictly social lunch. We usually discuss poli- tics and pay raises. Today, in the midst of the general banter, one of my female colleagues inter- rupted and addressed herself to me. She said that she was vastly impressed with the advocacy of “my friend, Ed.” She said that you had handled two very complex cases, back to back. In one case, you were opposed by Seth Waxman. She said Seth had a whole battery of assistants passing him notes and keeping him on track. You were alone and IMPRESSIVE in every way. In both cases, you knew the record cold and handled every question with confidence and grace. She said that she was really impressed with your performance. Two of my other colleagues immediately echoed her en- thusiasm over your performance.

I, of course, pointed out that I had taught you everything you know in our recent class at Berkeley together . . . NOT! I added the little enhancement that you can do the same thing with almost any topic of policy: mastering the facts and law without the slightest hesitation or pause!

In sum, I was really proud to be your friend today! You bring great credit on yourself and all associated with you!

And actually I not only do not mind, but encourage you to let others see this message.

Your friend for life, rrr

Consistent with his encouragement to let others see the email, Reines forwarded it to clients and potential clients.

The decision analyzed whether Reines’ conduct violated Model Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(e). That rule states that “[i]t is professional misconduct for a lawyer to . . . state or imply an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official to achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.” The court noted that the ABA has stated that “a lawyer who suggests that he or another lawyer is able to influence a judge or other public official because of a personal relationship violates Rule 8.4(e).” Id. (quoting Lawyers’ Manual on Prof’l Conduct (ABA/BNA), at 101:703 (Mar. 30, 2011)).

The court held that Reines had violated the rule.  Specifically, it reasoned:

First, the email both explicitly describes and implies a special relationship between respondent and then-Chief Judge Rader. The text of the email describes a close friendship between the two. The email included the language, “[i]n sum, I was really proud to be your friend today,” and closed with “[y]our friend for life.” The very fact that the email was a private communication rather than a public document implies a special relationship, and then-Chief Judge Rader’s sharing of internal court discussions (which would be ordinarily treated as confidential) about the lawyer’s performance in a pending case implies an unusually close relationship between respondent and the then-Chief Judge. Respondent’s comments transmitting the email also convey a special relationship with then-Chief Judge Rader and the Federal Circuit. Respondent described the email as “unusual” or “quite unusual” in some of his accompanying comments, Reines Ex. 4; Ex. 8; Ex. 44; Ex. 45, and referenced his “stature” within the court and his role as chair of the Federal Circuit’s Advisory Council, Reines Ex. 38.

Second, recipients of the email also viewed it as suggesting the existence of a special relationship between respondent and then-Chief Judge Rader and perhaps other judges of the court. Several responses referred to the high opinion then-Chief Judge Rader and judges in general had for Mr. Reines. 5 Other responses specifically referenced the friendship between respondent and then- Chief Judge Rader.

Third, the transmission of the email did more than suggest that respondent should be retained because of his superior advocacy skills. It suggested that his special relationship with the court should be taken into account. Respondent touted his role as chair of this court’s Advisory Council, and stated that his “stature” within the court had helped “flip” a $52 million judgment in favor of his client and that he “would love to help [the recipient of his message] do the same.” Reines Ex. 38. Another lawyer in respondent’s firm in forwarding the email stated that respondent “knows the judges extremely well.” Reines Ex. 49. Albeit respondent noted that he did not approve of the communication, he took no steps to advise the recipient of his disapproval. Decl. of Edward R. Reines ¶ 21.

Fourth, in sending the email to clients and prospec- tive clients, respondent sought to directly influence their decisions about retaining counsel. He typically stated, “[a]s you continue to consider us for your Federal Circuit needs, I thought the below email from Chief Judge Rader might be helpful.” Reines Ex. 11.7 Prospective clients likewise stated that they would consider it in making retention decisions.8

Finally, the email itself and respondent’s comments accompanying the sending of the email suggested that Federal Circuit judges would look favorably on the retention of respondent. Then-Chief Judge Rader invited respondent to distribute the email to others. Respondent suggested that clients should “listen[] to . . . the Federal Circuit judges[.]” Reines Ex. 30.

Id.  Based upon this analysis, the court stated that it would “blink reality” to pretend that forwarding the email did not imply a special relationship with the judge.  Id.

The court then determined that the penalty would be a public reprimand.  Not only had Reines acknowledged he had erred by forwarding the email, the court found mitigation in the fact that he had been encouraged to do so, and, further, because it was not an express but was an implicit statement that he could influence the court.

After rejecting a First Amendment challenge, the court ended with two somewhat curious observations. First it stated there was a separate issue that it was referring to the California bar concerning an exchange of gifts:

On Mr. Reines’s side, he provided a ticket for one concert, at another concert arranged for upgrading to a standing area near the stage, and arranged for backstage access for then-Chief Judge Rader at both. Then-Chief Judge Rader paid for accommodations. This occurred while Mr. Reines had cases pending before this court.

The court did not decide the issue but referred it “and the underlying relevant documents to the California bar authorities for their consideration.”  Id.

Second, the court stated that it was maintaining certain documents relating to the investigation under seal.  It stated that it was doing so “since this does not concern a matter as to which we have imposed discipline.”  Instead, it was leaving “it to the California bar authorities whether and when such materials should be disclosed.”  Id.

My Comments.

I clerked for Chief Judge Rader ending about 18 months ago. I never perceived him to be influenced by anything other than the merits of a case — period.  I also know he has a tendency to be effusive (that is putting it mildly) in emails.  As a result, the context of Chief’s emails to anyone who knows him discounts some of this.

But, in my view the court’s ruling was correct.  (Well, no it wasn’t.  See the ethics page by clicking above.)

The Ethical Issues Caused by Devaluation of Patents by Alice and CLS

First, to confirm Dennis’s anecdotal belief on the main page that firms are moving toward trade secrets, I heard that repeatedly at the IMPI conference, which had chief IP counsel from lots of big players.  Any benefit that the quid-pro-quo of our system is eroded by Myriad and CLS.  I have no clue whether that affects stock liquidity, but it sounds intuitively correct.

But, I’m writing because what I heard, and what others are saying on line, are making me concerned that the enormous impact on patent value represented by Myriad and CLS, and the years of absolute confusion that we’re facing, may trigger disclosure obligations by lawyers in some circumstances. While most firms, I am told, do not capitalize patents, some do. Sarbanes Oxley could be implicated by that.  In M&A transactions, valuation statements need to be thought through.  Google, for example, after it recently acquired a slew of patents said it had acquired certain value of patents.  That value is down.

Here is what one author has said:

 It would be an unwise publicly-traded tech company in the US that is not currently doing a full audit of its patent portfolio to assess where it stands in this post-Alice world.

The full article is here.  Another article from ipwatchdog is here.  (Both link to a study that I personally find very unreliable and so I’m not linking to it.)

I’m not sure that’s good advice.  I am sure that, without legislative investigation, consideration of actual policies and data, the Supreme Court has radically changed our patent system.

What a mess. Read the statute, Supreme Court. Read the statute.

Lessons I’m Learning at the IPMI Conference: Change Blowing in the Wind?

I’m attending, I think for the fourth year in a row, the International Performance Management Institute IP meeting.  It’s always at a nice place, and this year is no exception:  The Island Hotel in Newport Beach, California.  It’s also always attended by people who are high up (usually chief IP counsel) in high end organizations, like Dupont, AOL, Energizer, GlaxoSmithKline, IBM, and you name it.

Then there’s me.

First, the guy from the PTO says the new 101 guidelines are, they hope, out in a couple of weeks.  They won’t be “interim” guidelines any more, but they will be subject to improvement.

From industry, I’ve heard some things very different this year, consistently, and perhaps of interest to you.

First, several speakers said, given the mess that 101 is, that they are moving back toward trade secret protection.  That was true among several people who spoke, as well as just in my conversations, and it went across technologies — from bio onward.

Second, the role of IP in business is changing.  I am not sure I can fully explain what’s going on, but the use of patents as business, not litigation, tools appears to be a central and growing theme.  Each speaker again from whatever industry talked about this development.  The monetization — through licensing or otherwise — trend is hitting big time.

Third, trolls are the primary litigants, still.  My idea that 285 can be used to impose fees on the troll’s lawyers, as opposed to the asset-less troll, will be floated in full tomorrow, so I’ll let you know how that goes. Of course, when I talked to these big shots privately, they were “ooooooo.”

Finally, and it always hits me here, the disconnect between trial lawyers and clients, and between academia and both of them, is wide and deep.

PTAB: If a prosecution bar doesn’t say it applies to PTAB proceedings, then it doesn’t.

I’ve posted several times about how it’s best not to leave the scope of prosecution bars (what subject matter; how long; and what activities) to courts to decide because they may not agree with your (silent) views.  Make it explicit.  The PTAB recently held, in a somewhat fact-based case, that a prosecution bar that precluded activities in “prosecution activities” did not stop a lawyer from being involved in an IPR proceeding.  (hat tip to patentdocs.)  The case, Google Inc. v. Jongerius Panoramic Tech. LLC (Cas IPR2013-00191) (Paper No. 50) is here.

Proposed Amendment to Fed. Cir. R. 50 to Affect Future Clerks

The Federal Circuit has a rule that currently provides:

No employee of the court may engage in the practice of law. No former employee of the court may participate or assist, by representation, consultation, or otherwise, in any case that was pending in the court during the period of employment. For purposes of this rule, a person serving at the court as an intern, whether in a judge’s chambers or otherwise, is considered an employee of the court, whether such service is for pay, for law school credit, or voluntary.

The Court proposes to add this language:

Cases involving related subject matter: In addition to not participating in any case that was pending in the court during the period of employment, a former employee should also avoid participation in a case that includes any patent that was at issue in a case that was pending during the period of employment if the former employee participated personally and substantially in the pending case. See Canon 3(d) of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees (prohibiting disclosure of “any confidential information received in the course of official duties” and noting that a “former judicial employee should observe the same restrictions on disclosure of confidential information that apply to a current judicial employee, except as modified by the appointing authority.”).

(A link to the proposed change is here.)  At the outset, if this means what it says, then, for example, if a clerk at the Court today works personally on a case involving the ‘123 patent, against which a party asserts 30 prior art references in one manner or another, that clerk is precluded from being involved in 31 cases.  That’s nuts.

Assuming (hopefully) that what they mean is personally and substantially involved in a case where the validity, infringement, or enforceability of a patent was in issue, that’s perhaps okay, I guess, given IPR, but I’m not sure I fully appreciate the ramifications.  Thoughts?  (Also, does “should avoid participation in” mean it’s not mandatory?)

If you want to comment, here is the form.

 

 

 

Federal Circuit: Absent bad faith, court cannot condition allowing patentee to supplement preliminary infringement contentions upon paying accused infringer’s fees

AntiCancer, Inc. v. Pfizer, Inc. (Newman, Auth; Reyna; Taranto) is probably not new law, but is of interest.

The District Court relied upon its inherent power to enter an order holding that the patentee could not, in accordance with local rules, supplement its preliminary infringement contentions without first agreeing to pay the accused infringer’s fees it incurred in preparing a motion for summary judgment based upon the lack of specificity of those PICs.  If the patentee chose not to supplement and pay fees, the court ordered summary judgment would be entered against it. The patentee objected; the district court entered summary judgment against it.

The panel unanimously reversed, recognizing that a court can rely on inherent power only where there is bad faith.  Further, the Ninth Circuit’s law required an express finding of bad faith.  Thus, reversal seemed pretty clearly required.

What makes the case interesting is the court tried to put the role of PICs in some context, emphasizing that they  are intended to identify the issues in need of further discovery but are not, themselves, evidence.  Further, because the PICs were due five days after filing an amended complaint, the court emphasized that doing the best that was possible did not require a whole lot where there was a method claim involved and so access to the accused infringer’s method was limited as a practical matter.  Finally, the panel emphasized that the district court should have considered the additional detail provided in the opposition to summary judgment; instead, the district court viewed the fact that additional details were present in the opposition indicated the PICs were incomplete.

My takeaway is that if you’re going to oppose summary judgment, you need to follow Rule 56 and, before discovery at least, come forward with evidence negating an element of the claim.  Local rules can’t trump rule 56.

 

Post-Octane: What’s Happening with Fee Awards?

My wonderful research assistant Lee Ann Hughes prepared the attached chart (link below) examining what courts are doing post-Octane.  Her research showed:

  • 39 cases – attorney’s fees not awarded
  • 23 cases – attorney’s fees awarded
  • 5 – remanded

That’s a huge shift, I suspect, from pre-Octane practice.

In the next Landslide magazine, I analyze whether section 285 can directly apply to lawyers (can I make opposing counsel jointly and severally liable with its client?) and explain how clients will be bringing malpractice claims against their lawyers when fees are awarded against them.  Those cases have already been filed, even under the old standard.

Think about how you want to address Octane in fee agreements, in discussions with clients, and other things…

Chart Cases Awarding and Not Awarding Attorneys Fees under Octane UPDATED

Another Prosecution Bar Case, but With a Twist

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere here, the adoption of the AIA has created various issues for existing prosecution bars: if you are using a pre-AIA form, consider whether it applies to the new post-grant proceedings.  Courts are splitting on whether bars that don’t mention them can, or should, apply.  My article on the broad topic of prosecution bars is here.

In this recent case, Voice Domain Techn. LLC v. Apple, Inc. (D. Mass. Oct. 8, 2014), the court faced a couple of unique circumstances, while also addressing whether post-grant proceedings were “competitive decision-making” within the meaning of prosecution bars.  Specifically, the patentee was essentially a one-man company and that one man was also the named inventor on the patents-in-suit.  Apple sought to exclude him from having access to key information, asserting that, no matter his best intentions, he would at least likely inadvertently misuse the information.  Apple asserted that his involvement in licensing, patent acquisition, and prosecution all made inadvertent disclosure possible.

The court agreed, holding that, though not doubting his integrity, “it questions whether it is possible to avoid the subconscious use of Apple’s confidential material in his future endeavors.”  Thus, as a competitive decision-maker he was subject to a bar unless Voice Domain showed that the prejudice to it of a bar outweighed any potential harm.  The court found it did not, concluding that because trial counsel and experts could have access, this outweighed the potential harm.

That aspect of the case — the sole-employee patentee — is fairly rare in my research, and this case discusses a few other similar cases.

The case addresses various other issues, but whether reexamination and other post-grant proceedings should be covered was a key issue. The court held that although courts had usually held reexamination proceedings were not subject to a prosecution bar, “a newer line of cases recognizes that even in a reexamination proceeding, a patent owner can use confidential information to restructure or amend its claims so as to improve its litigation position against alleged infringers.” (citing several cases from 2013 and 2014). The court adopted the approach of these more recent cases, but entered an order that allowed for court permission for counsel to participate.

Takeaways:  (1)  don’t assume post-grant proceedings are covered, or not, by a bar and make it clear; (2) be sure that any of your lawyers who are subject to a bar comply with it and (3) figure out who on the other side needs to be barred.  As my paper points out, with respect to that last point, some courts hold that the party seeking the bar has to show that a lawyer on the other side is likely engaged in competitive decision-making; that is not practicable.  Finally, and again, double-check any old form and be sure you update it, as appropriate.

Update: Using IPR to Manipulate the Stock Price of Patentees Which Won in District Court

The creativity of American lawyers never ceases to amaze.  I’ve heard of variations on this theme:  using an IPR to coerce payment, a license, or something from the patentee.  Variation on the theme:

A third party sees that a patentee has won a big judgment, defending its patent against a charge of invalidity.  The third party then cobbles together an IPR petition based upon the arguments that failed in the district court, relying upon the lower burden of proof and broader claim construction that will apply in IPR, and sends it to the patentee with a note:  “pay us or we’ll file this.”  This was discussed a few months back here.

A third party uses IPR as a tool to manipulate stock price:  sell the stock short and then file the IPR.  Or, it sees the patentee is in litigation and says, “give us a license (which we’ll turn around and use to license the defendants) or we’ll file an IPR.”  A story about that allegedly happening is here.

Gotta love America.

The ethics of this are fascinating:  it may be that the OED could be brought in to show that the IPR was filed for an improper purpose and nip it in the bud.  But that’s probably a long shot, given the right to petition and what-not.  Perhaps Congress limiting standing in IPRs to competitors?  It’s too early for me to think in depth about a creative solution to this creative problem.

Judge Gilstrap Holds Firm has Only Partial Lien on Proceeds from Representing NPE Patentee

There’s a fee dispute in the Eastern District of Texas over, it’s alleged, $25m owed to Mount Spelman & Fingerman, P.C. by its former client, Geotag, Inc.  I’ve uploaded a copy of the judge’s decision from October 2, 2014, here:  show_temp

Boiled down, the client retained the firm to sue 350 or so defendants but after just over a year, fired the lawyer.  The fee agreement purportedly gave the firm the right for any reason on termination to get either its full hourly fees or a contingent fee, whichever was greater.  (Which is insane, but I digress.)  But that issue was not what the court addressed.

Instead, the firm moved for a preliminary injunction, asserting that it had a lien over the money and that the patentee was going to send the money out of the country.  The court first held that a contractual lien was not prohibited by Texas’ ethical rules, even though there were two opinions which the court viewed as irreconcilable on that point.  So, firm wins that round.

But, the court reasoned that the fee agreement was not clear as to which cases it applied to, and under what circumstances.  Because of the lack of clarity, it ultimately concluded that the lawyer had a lien only as to cases fully settled/adjudicated prior to termination, and even those it put limitations on.  So, firm loses that round.

This is the second Texas case in just the last few months to raise up these “I get paid even if you fire me no matter what” clauses, the other invoking Parallel Networks and Jenner & Block, which you can read about here.  I’ve written an article about these purportedly ethical provisions, and if you email me I’ll shoot it to you. Ask for “Dear Lawyer.”

If you have and can forward a copy of this fee agreement to me, I’d love to see it. It did not seem to be on Pacer and may, of course, be under a protective order. Please don’t send it if it is! :-)

BPCIA Ethical Issues?

Hi, all,

I’m in the midst of preparing a paper on ethical issues arising from biologics practice, and figured I’d ask:  you have any issues that arise?  I’ve thought of some regarding prosecution bars/competitive decision-making type issues, but would love your input, particular as to in-house counsel issues.

Many thanks.  I’ll post the paper when it’s done.

Hearing on Ohio Bill to Protect Against Frivolous Patent Suits.

The story here explains that the bill got a hearing and that, if passed, Ohio would join ten other states with these bills. The story states:  “HB 573 outlines information in patent infringement claim letters that can be used against senders in legal proceedings and enables targets of such letters to file civil suits if claims have no merit.”

I’ve got an article coming out showing how 285 can be used against lawyers of patentees…

K&L Gates says no conflict but withdraws anyway

The story, hopefully not behind a paywall is here.  It’s not quite clear from the story, but it seems that the patentee had several lengthy meetings with one set of K&L Gates lawyers about some of its patents, but, for whatever reason, did not retain the firm.  The, after the patentee filed suit, K&L Gates showed up representing the defendant.  After the firm filed a response to the motion to disqualify, it announced it would withdrawn to avoid the cost and delay of the motion on its client.

This implicates (in many federal courts) Model Rule 1.18, or its state analogs, a rule that is not on a lot of lawyers’ radar.  Essentially, it provides that a law firm owes duties to a client who in good faith seeks to retain the law firm.  The firm can obtain consent, set up screens, and take other steps to avoid a conflict under the rule, and it may be that’s what K&L Gates did here.

If you do “beauty pageants” or “dog and pony shows,” read Model Rule 1.18 and take advantage of some of its safe harbors, to protect yourself, your prospective client, and later potential clients.