Motion for Sanctions Based on Threats of Counsel to Reexamine Patents and to Take Other Action Against Outside Counsel, Although at Best "Silly Posturing and at Worst Unprofessional," Insufficient to Justify Sanctions Because of First Amendment
Plaintiff Vasudevan Software, Inc. ("VSi") filed a motion for sanctions against defendant MicroStrategy ("MS"). The sanctions motion was based on statements that VSi characterized as threats against both VSi and its counsel by an outside counsel and a principal of MS, in conjunction with MS's filing of a request for reexamination of four of VSi's patents and another patent held by Zillow, a client of VSi's outside counsel. Rather than deny that the statements were made, MS asserted that even if the statements were made they could not be sanctioned for making them because of the First Amendment.
The district court explained the background facts as follows: "Sean Pak, a partner at Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP, counsel for MS, contacted Brooke Taylor, a partner at Susman Godfrey, counsel for VSi. He requested a meeting include the principals of VSi and MS. Pak said MS was planning to be "aggressive" in defending against VSi's claims in this case and would take "initiatives" toward that end, including filing reexamination petitions with the USPTO to reexamine VSi's patents. Pak proposed flying to Seattle (where the Susman Godfrey office in which Taylor works is located) to discuss these "initiatives" with VSi and its counsel. Taylor agreed and Pak, Taylor and Jordan Conners (a Susman Godfrey associate also representing VSi) met in person at Susman Godfrey's Seattle offices on September 10, 2012. Additional VSi counsel Les Payne and Eric Enger of Heim, Payne, & Chorush, LLP, VSi principals Mark and Helen Vasudevan, and MS Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jonathan Klein participated in the meeting over the phone. Klein stated that he would not pay VSi anything to settle VSi's patent infringement claims against MS and, if VSi did not immediately dismiss the case, threatened to make the litigation as painful as possible for VSi, file reexamination petitions with the USPTO for all of VSi's patents in suit, and take action against Susman Godfrey. When Payne specifically asked Klein what he meant by taking action against Susman Godfrey, he refused to answer and suggested that Susman Godfrey would have to wait and see. "