Recently in Sanctions Category

After Settlement, District Court Declines to Vacate Sanctions Order Requested by Joint Motion from All Parties

March 30, 2016

After all parties agreed to settle the case, the parties jointly moved to vacate a sanctions order. The district court declined to vacate the sanctions order, even though plaintiff's counsel had apparently complied with the order, because the order was entered by a prior judge in a detailed ruling.

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Court Orders Law Firm and Client Joint and Severally Liable for Part of Attorney's Fee Award After Determination That Case Was Exceptional

September 24, 2015

The district court briefly summarized this patent infringement action that it found frivolous as follows: "In the 1990's, Segan invented a system for people to browse the Internet. Today, Zynga makes video games that people can play while on Facebook. People don't browse the Internet while playing Zynga games on Facebook. But Segan sued Zynga for patent infringement. Segan lost at summary judgment, because no reasonable juror could conclude that Zynga's games infringe Segan's patent."

The district court then asked two questions: (1) was "this an "exceptional case" within the meaning of 35 U.S.C. § 285, such that Segan should pay Zynga for its attorneys' fees?" and (2) should the law firm representing Segan "be sanctioned under Rule 11 for filing and pursuing a frivolous lawsuit?"

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District Court Holds Plaintiff and Plaintiff's Attorneys Jointly and Severally Liable for Attorney's Fees and Costs After Finding that Attorneys Knew of False Affidavits Filed with the Patent Office

January 22, 2015

After trial, HTC Corporation and HTC America, Inc. ("HTC") filed a motion seeking to recover attorney fees and costs from plaintiff's attorneys as well as from plaintiff Intellect Wireless, Inc. ("IW"). IW withdrew its initial opposition and conceded that the case was exceptional within the meaning of the Patent Act. HTC also contended that a finding should also be made that the attorneys for IW are jointly and personally required to satisfy HTC's attorney fees and costs because, among other things, IW's attorneys unreasonably and vexatiously multiplied the proceedings within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1927.

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Court Orders Production of Work Product Documents under Crime-Fraud Exception to Attorney-Client Privilege Where Defendants Had Falsely Identified Source Code

January 20, 2015

In an earlier filed decision, the district court had previously found that Escort and its defense counsel had knowingly misled the plaintiff, Fleming, which warranted a sanction of attorney fees. As explained by the district court, "they falsely claimed that the source code identified as ESC17363 was the current operating source code for Escort's commercially sold products and that it provided a complete defense to Fleming's patent infringement charges."

After awarding attorney's fees, the district court turned to Fleming's motion to compel the production of certain documents. "Fleming seeks discovery of a wide variety of documents and communications in an effort to determine if Escort fabricated ESC17363 and falsely represented that it was created in the normal course of product development."
In response, Escort argued that all of the material sought by Fleming was protected by the work product doctrine and the attorney client privilege.

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District Court Sanctions Defendants for Failing to Agree to Standard Protective Order

January 12, 2015

In this patent infringement action, the plaintiff filed a motion for entry of a standard protective order after the defendant would not agree to sign a stipulated protective order. As explained by the district court, the plaintiffs sued defendants, alleging that they infringed on several patents.

After the lawsuit was filed, plaintiffs' counsel requested that defendants' counsel sign off on a stipulated protective order to protect certain confidential/proprietary materials that the parties were going to exchange in discovery. The district court explained that "[t]his is standard operating procedure in patent cases in federal court and the parties and the Court routinely sign off on them in these cases."

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Sanctions Awarded for "Train Wreck of a Deposition" Where Witness Was Evasive and Counsel Made Inappropriate Objections

September 4, 2014

In this patent infringement action between MAG Aerospace Industries, Inc. ("MAG") and B/E Aerospace, Inc. ("B/E"), MAG filed an ex parte motion as a result of conduct during a deposition. The court began its analysis of the motion by reminding the parties that "[a] deposition is a judicial proceeding that should be conducted with the solemnity and decorum befitting its importance. Lawyers participating in depositions should comport themselves in a professional and dignified manner."

The court went on to state that "[w]hen lawyers behave otherwise, it reflects poorly on the entire judicial process. The purpose of a deposition is for a witness to provide testimony under oath. The testimony may or may not be admissible at trial; nonetheless, the opposing party is entitled to ascertain the witness's knowledge, as imperfect and imprecise as that knowledge may be."

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UGG: Default Judgment and Treble Damages Entered Against Defendant Where Defendant Failed to Participate in Discovery

August 26, 2014

Plaintiff Deckers Outdoor Corporation ("Plaintiff") alleged that Defendants Superstar International, Inc. and Sai Liu ("Defendants") produce, advertise, and sell products that infringe Plaintiff's design patents for UGG boots. The district court previously ruled that default judgment was appropriate, considering both the procedural requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b) and the factors laid out in Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986). In the previous order, the district court left open what relief Plaintiff could recover.

The district court then addressed whether the Plaintiff should be entitled to treble damages. As explained by the district court, "[u]nder 35 U.S.C. § 284 ("Section 284"), when a Court finds that a patent has been infringed, 'the court shall award the claimant damages adequate to compensate for the infringement, but in no event less than a reasonable royalty for the use made of the invention by the infringer, together with interest and costs as fixed by the court.' One way damages may be measured under Section 284 is by the patentee's lost profits. Lucent Technologies, Inc. v. Gateway, Inc., 580 F.3d 1301, 1324 (Fed. Cir. 2009). The burden of proving damages is on the patentee. Id."

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Court Denies Monetary Sanctions Based on Overdesignation of Documents As Confidential-Outside Counsel Eyes Only But Orders Defendants to Re-Designate Documents and Pay Cost for Redesignating Documents in the Plaintiff's Document Management System

July 31, 2014

In this patent infringement action brought by plaintiff Trustees of Boston University ("BU") , BU alleged that defendants infringed U.S. Patent No. 5,686,738 (the "'738 Patent"), which pertains to light emitting diodes ("LEDs"). BU moved for sanctions against Defendants and their counsel for overdesignating documents as "Confidential-Outside Counsel Eyes Only."

After BU served document requests for emails, Defendants ran search terms that produced over 3.5 million pages of emails. The Defendants then designated every document of that production as Outside Counsel Only, but the Defendants did not review each document to determine whether it in fact contained confidential information. As explained by the district court, "[b]ecause there was not enough time to review each document and meet [the 30-day] deadline, Defendants reviewed the documents quickly and determined that the emails generally met the requirement of the Global Protective Order, and marked them "CONFIDENTIAL-OUTSIDE COUNSEL EYES ONLY."'

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Finding of Exceptional Case Denied Due to Unclean Hands

July 10, 2014

In Gaymar Industries, Inc. v. Cincinnati Sub-Zero Products, Inc. et al, 1-08-cv-00299 (NYWD July 3, 2014, Order) (McCarthy, M.J.), the magistrate judge recommended denial of defendant's request for reconsideration of its failed motion for attorneys' fees under 35 U.S.C. §285 in light of Defendant's unclean hands.

After the court's denial of its motion for attorneys' fees as an "exceptional case" pursuant to 35 U.S.C. §285, Defendant Cincinnati Sub-Zero Products, Inc. ("CSZ") moved for reconsideration in light of new case authority, i.e. Octane Fitness, LLC v. ICON Health & Fitness, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 1749 (2014) and Highmark, Inc. v. Allcare Health Management System, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 1744 (2014). The court noted that Octane Fitness lowered the burden of proof for proving an "exceptional case" by rejecting the "clear and convincing" standard in favor of the "preponderance of the evidence" and relaxed the underlying test by holding that "an 'exceptional' case is simply one that stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party's litigating position (considering both the governing law and the facts of the case) or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated. District courts may determine whether a case is 'exceptional' in the case-by-case exercise of their discretion, considering the totality of the circumstances . . . . There is no precise rule or formula for making these determinations." Citing 134 S.Ct. at 1756; Highmark, 134 S.Ct. at 1748.

The court found that neither of the submitted authorities called for a different result than previously reached. In doing so, the court noted these cases did not alter the long-standing rule that "[e]ven for an exceptional case, the decision to award attorney fees . . . [is] within the district court's sound discretion." Citing Brooks Furniture Manufacturing, Inc. v. Dutailier International, Inc., 393 F.3d 1378, 1382 (Fed. Cir. 2005). This discretion allows the judge to consider factors, including closeness of the case, the tactics of counsel, the conduct of the parties, and any other factors that may contribute to a fair allocation of the litigation burdens of litigation between winner and loser.

While acknowledging that the plaintiff's conduct was questionable, the court recounted instances of litigation misconduct by CSZ and its reluctance to award attorneys' fees under such circumstances. The court rejected Defendant's argument that greater focus and weight should be given to the plaintiff's behavior in determining an exceptional case. Rather, the court reasoned that its discretion was subject to traditional equitable principles, including the equitable maxim of unclean hands requiring that "he who comes into equity must come with clean hands." Citing Precision Instrument Mfg. Co. v. Automotive Maintenance Machine Co., 324 U.S. 806, 814 (1945); Motorola Credit Corp. v. Uzan, 561 F.3d 123, 127 (2d Cir. 2009) ('[U]nclean hands' really just means that . . . the plaintiff's fault, like the defendant's, may be relevant to the question of what if any remedy the plaintiff is entitled to.")

Accordingly, the magistrate judge found that defendant lacked the "clean hands" sufficient to render it an "exceptional case" and recommended denial of its motion for reconsideration.

District Court Refuses to Vacate Sanctions Ruling for Spoliation after Settlement

February 12, 2014

Digital-Vending Services International, LLC ("Digital-Vending") filed a patent infringement action against The University of Phoenix, Inc. and Apollo Group, Inc. ("Defendants"). During the course of the litigation, the Magistrate Judge granted Defendants' motion for sanctions for Digital-Vending's spoliation.

After the matter settled, Digital-Vending and the Defendants filed a consent motion to vacate the Magistrate Judge's opinion and order granting Defendants' motion for sanctions for spoliation. As part of the consent motion, the parties informed the court that the Defendants had withdrawn their motion for sanction and that Digital-Vending and the Defendants had settled the case. The parties also informed the court that as part of the settlement Defendants had agree to join the consent motion and that Digital-Vending had dismissed its appeal to the Federal Circuit with prejudice.

The court then proceeded to reject the consent motion, finding that it was inappropriate and the court would not hide Digital-Vending discovery abuse. "The Court will not agree to hide the discovery abuse of the plaintiff in this case by withdrawing the October 3, 2013" order.

Digital-Vending Services International, LLC v. The University of Phoenix, Inc., Case No. 2:09-cv-55 (AWA/TEM) (E.D. Va. Feb. 5, 2014)

The authors of www.PatentLawyerBlog.com are patent trial lawyers at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP. We represent inventors, patent owners and technology companies in patent licensing and litigation. Whether pursuing patent violations or defending infringement claims, we are aggressive and effective advocates for our clients. For more information contact Stan Gibson at 310.201.3548 or SGibson@jmbm.com.

Apple v. Samsung Sanction Decision: the Bark Is Worse Than the Bite as Apple and Nokia Overreach in Their Request for Sanctions

February 3, 2014

To resolve Apple and Nokia's request for sanctions against Samsung from Samsung's violation of a protective order, the court ordered written discovery and depositions to determine the extent of the violation. After discovery and several hearing, the court began its analysis by noting that "[a] junior associate missing one redaction among many in an expert report is not exactly a historical event in the annals of big-ticket patent litigation. Even if regrettable, these things can happen, and almost certainly do happen each and every day. But when such an inadvertent mistake is permitted to go unchecked, unaddressed, and propagated hundreds and hundreds of times by conscious - and indeed strategic - choices by that associate's firm and client alike, more significant and blameworthy flaws are revealed."

The court then addressed three separate questions. "First, has its protective order been violated? Second, if the protective order has been violated, does the court have the authority to issue sanctions for those violations? Finally, if the court has the authority to issue sanctions, what factors should it consider in determining whether sanctions are warranted?"

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Plaintiff Moves to Continue Trial Date Based on Dispute with Counsel; District Court Denies the Motion and Warns That Failure to Obtain New Counsel Will Result in Dismissal

October 23, 2013

In this patent infringement action that was originally filed against a number of defendants, plaintiff Alexsam, Inc. ("Alexsam") moved for a continuance of the impending trial date set for October 2013. To support the motion, plaintiff notified the district court that it had terminated its relationship with its counsel of record and suggested that it anticipates litigation between itself and its counsel of record. Alexsam requested a delay in the trial setting so that it could secure new counsel.

The district court had previously conducted a consolidated trial on Defendants' invalidity claims in May 2013. The jury found each of the asserted claims valid. As explained by the district court, "Shortly after the invalidity trial, Plaintiff and Best Buy, Inc. settled the remaining issues between them (Doc. No. 270 in 2:13-cv-2). The Court then tried the infringement issues in Alexsam, Inc. v. Barnes & Noble, Inc. (2:13-cv-3) and Alexsam, Inc. v. The Gap, Inc. (2:13-cv-4) in June 2013. The Barnes & Noble trial was conducted June 3-7, 2013, and the Gap trial was conducted June 24-28, 2013. Both juries found no infringement (Doc. No. 219 in 6:13-cv-3 and Doc. No. 243 in 6:13-cv-4)."

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Apple v. Samsung: Court Orders Investigation into Potential Protective Order Violation by Samsung

October 14, 2013

As Apple and Samsung head toward yet another trial, Apple filed a motion for sanctions, accusing Samsung of violating the protective order in the case. Apple's motion asserted that Samsung's counsel had improperly shared information under the protective order with executives at Samsung.

The court began its analysis with a discussion of the importance of protective orders: "Time and again in competitor patent cases, parties resist producing confidential information to their adversaries' lawyers. They fear, among other things, that the lawyers will insufficiently shield the information from the competitors that they represent. Yet time and again, the court assuages these fears with assurances that a protective order will keep the information out of the competitors' hands. A casual observer might reasonably wonder what magic a protective order works that allows outside counsel access to confidential information to advance the case without countenancing untoward uses by the client. The answer is not a magical one at all: confidential information remains confidential because counsel and clients alike follow court orders. If parties breach this basic rule, the court's assurances become meaningless. There is reason to believe the rule has been breached in the present case."

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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

March 27, 2013

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. "

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Rule 11 Sanctions Imposed where Plaintiff's Failure to Evaluate and Understand the Accused Product Was Unreasonable and Easily Avoided

February 22, 2013

In Smart Options, LLC v. Jump Rope, Inc., Case No. 12-C-2498 (N.D. Ill. March 25, 2013), plaintiff Smart Options brought suit for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,313,539 against Jump Rope. The '539 Patent relates to a method for purchasing an "option" to buy a good or service (e.g., concert ticket) at a "reservation price" within a designated time period. If the option to buy is not exercised then it expires and there is no refund of the "option fee." Smart Options utilizes the patent in the operation of its website www.optionit.com. Jump Rope operated a smart phone application that allows users to bypass entrance lines at events by purchasing a "Jump" which allows immediate access to the event without any additional purchase required.

After the suit was filed, Jump Rope served Smart Options with a Rule 11 motion and cover letter stating that Jump Rope would seek its attorneys' fees and costs if Smart Options proceeded with the suit and the Court entered a finding of non-infringement. Jump Rope explained why it considered the suit to be meritless:

Plaintiff alleges violation of a patent that covers providing options on the right to purchase goods or services at a future time. Defendant's software application, however, does not provide options or charge option fees. Rather, it allows someone to buy the service provided - a right to "jump the line" at an event or facility. Plaintiff and its counsel could have and easily should have discovered this, as the iPhone/Android application they accuse is free to download.

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