September 2017

Judge Finds McKool Smith Violated Prosecution Bar

This one is fun for me, since I teach civil procedure, patents, and ethics, and have written about prosecution bars way too much.

Prosecution bars are used when a court concludes that, although the usual rule is that lawyers will abide by provisions in a protective order that say “don’t use information disclosed in this suit for any other purpose,” there’s a risk that a lawyer will, perhaps even inadvertently, misuse the opposing party’s information disclosed in discovery because of work the lawyer does for his client.  Here, in a case Eolas (represented by McKool) filed for its client against Amazon (and others), it seems that as part of the protective order, McKool agreed that its lawyers were in such a position — they were prosecuting patents for Eolas in similar technologies, presumably, to what was involved in the suit — and so the protective order provided that no McKool lawyer who received certain categories of confidential information from Amazon would prosecute patents for Eolas in those fields, for a time.

And there is the issue: how long? The protective order stated (in part — I’d want to see the entire thing to really understand this), that the bar expired “one (1) year following the entry of a final non-appealable judgment…”

Eolas lost at trial, and the Federal Circuit affirmed and entered judgment on July 22, 2013.

If the one year date runs from there — which I so far think it does — then it expired on July 22, 2014.  And it was only after that date that McKool lawyers allegedly violated the prosecution bar.

However, Eolas could have petitioned for cert for the 90 days after July 22, 2013. If you use the expiration of those 90 days as the date for “entry” of the final judgment, then the “entry of a final non-appellable final judgment” occurred in October, and one -year later puts you in October, 2014.  Eolas didn’t seek cert, however. (I don’t think that matters, but I’ll come back to that.)

And of course, it was after July and before October 2014 that McKool allegedly started the work that violated the protective order. When Amazon saw a patent issue which, it seems, resulted from McKools’ pre-October 2014 work, Amazon moved for sanctions, asserting (among other things) that the patent should be unenforceable.

The judge ruled that entry of final judgment occurred in October 2013 and so there was a violation.  McKool has filed a motion to reconsider.

I honestly don’t think this is a close case: the judge got it wrong.  First, it says “entry.” That occurred in July.  It says “non-appealable”  A judgment from a circuit court, including the CAFC, isn’t appealable to any court: you can file a petition for cert, but that’s not an appeal. Finally, it could have said (and some protective orders do) “until everything at the Supreme Court is over and done,” but it seemingly didn’t do that.  I also have grave doubts that under Aptix and other cases from the Federal Circuit that Amazon’s request that the patent be held unenforceable as a result of litigation misconduct will fail, but, again, I think we never get there.

So, what’s this mean for your practice?

First off, suppose there isn’t an appeal in a district court case.  You go to trial, you get judgment on July 22, 2013, and nothing happens.  On July 22, 2014, can you start work?  Well, there’s 30 days after entry of final judgment that the other side could appeal, so don’t you have to wait until August 22, 2014 (or 21, whichever)?

If there is an appeal to the CAFC, do you need to add 90 days to the date of entry of judgment even though they don’t apply for cert, and even if it doesn’t say “and we’re done at the supreme court?”

I think this one is clear.  Do you?

Another Client Loses Privilege Because Employer Policies Allowed Monitoring

I’ve written about this a few times but, sadly, no one listens to me!

Here’s the fact pattern:  your client is emailing you from their work email account, or your client is using a computer that its employer owns.  (Your client is not the employer, but an individual.)  Whether your client is in litigation with its employer — or someone else! — if the employer has policies in place and in use that allow it to monitor employee email or the computer itself, there likely is no reasonable expectation of privacy in those emails or in the files on the computer and, if so, no privilege.

Another case, this one from New York and involving an employer’s laptop and a suit with the company, applied the leading test to determine whether the employee knew that monitoring was allowed, and in fact occurred, and found the employee– former general counsel —  could not withhold more than 106 files that he had created after he had been fired by the company on its laptop.  Miller v. Zara USA, Inc., (N.Y. App. Div. June 6, 2017).  The appellate court remanded the case to the trial court to determine if any of the documents were, although not privileged, nonetheless protected by work product.

Realize this: even if the dispute is between your client and some third party, that third party can also rely on the lack of a reasonable expectation of confidentiality and show there is no privilege.  And, finally, if you draft these policies, your client’s employees may not realize that this isn’t just “gee my employer can review my emails if I get in a fight with it,” it’s “if you get in a fight with anyone, you’re not going to have privilege.”  I bet your clients would like it if you made that really clear, since that’s not intuitive.

New York City Bar Cautions Lawyers to Use Care if U.S. Customs Asks to Review Electronically-Stored Information

New York City Bar Opinion 2017-5 (July 2017), here, provides some interesting information about the care lawyers must take before allowing a lawful search of an attorneys’ smartphone, laptop, or the like.  The opinion is obviously important given the international nature of intellectual property practice and the growing frequency (still small, though) with which Customs officials ask for passwords that could reveal client confidences.

The opinion states in part that lawyers should consider whether they should not carry electronic devices that could permit disclosure to sensitive client information when traveling abroad, and, if asked upon return to provide access to the device, the opinion states:

At the border, if government agents seek to search the attorney’s electronic device pursuant to a claim of lawful authority, and the device contains clients’ confidential information, the attorney may not comply unless “reasonably necessary” under Rule 1.6(b)(6), which permits disclosure of clients’ confidential information to comply with “law or court order.”  Under the Rule, the attorney first must take reasonable measures to prevent disclosure of confidential information, which would include informing the border agent that the device or files in question contain privileged or confidential materials, requesting that such materials not be searched or copied, asking to speak to a superior officer and making any other lawful requests to protect the confidential information from disclosure. To demonstrate that the device contains attorney-client materials, the attorney should carry proof of bar membership, such as an attorney ID card, when crossing a U.S. border.

Finally, if the attorney discloses clients’ confidential information to a third party during a border search, the attorney must inform affected clients about such disclosures pursuant to Rule 1.4.

I’ve never been asked to provide a password, or to handover an electronic device, but the opinion provides some useful reminders of precautions that may be necessary in today’s world.