By David Hricik, Mercer Law School
Of course, patent prosecution and litigation involves a lot of confidential information. As a result, protective orders, prosecution bars, and clawback arrangements are part and parcel of most patent suits. Perhaps because confidential and privileged information is more frequently involved than in some other forms of litigation, waiver issues are also common.
Over the years, I’ve bumped into this issue a couple of times: an email from a client (or client’s representative) is claimed to be privileged even though the sender shared the email account with their spouse. This happened recently in RTC Indus., Inc. v. Fasteners for Retail, Inc. (N.D. Ill. Feb. 26, 2020) (here). The judge there held privilege was not waived, in part because married couples naturally share email accounts and there was no evidence the spouse had actually viewed the email.
That is not a universal approach, however. In addition, where an email account, or computer, is shared by people who are not married (such as roommates), a greater risk of privilege waiver exists. Finally, many employers monitor employee email, and, so, for example, if an employee e-mails a lawyer from a work computer, it may be that privilege is waived. To be clear, this can happen even where the dispute is between the employee and some third party, not between employee and employer.