Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

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Walker filed suit in December 2012, alleging patent infringement. In May 2014, Walker and HSN, both represented by counsel, entered into a Mediated Settlement Agreement, requiring that HSN pay Walker $200,000; Walker was to deliver a release and the parties were to stipulate to dismissal. On May 9, HSN moved to stay deadlines based on the Agreement “that resolves all claims.” Walker opposed the motion, stating that “significant issues” remained. The court denied HSN’s motion. On May 12, HSN sought reconsideration, filing the Agreement and a memorandum arguing that all claims were resolved. During May, Walker moved to file a Third Amended Complaint, moved to set a Markman Hearing, and opposed the filing of the Agreement. On May 29, HSN moved to enforce the Agreement, attaching correspondence from Walker’s counsel acknowledging that the case was settled, but requesting additional discovery. Walker delivered a general release and HSN forwarded the $200,000 payment. Walker filed motions opposing enforcement and attorneys’ fees for HSN. HSN sought sanctions based on Walker’s “meritless filings … on a matter that has been fully resolved.” At a status conference, both parties agreed the case should be dismissed, but disagreed about over what the court retained jurisdiction. The court dismissed and awarded HSN “reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs resulting from Plaintiff’s vexatious actions after the filing of the Notice of Settlement.” Walker unsuccessfully sought reconsideration, then filed an unsuccessful objection to fees. In April 2015, the court entered final judgment awarding HSN $20,511.50 in attorneys’ fees. The Federal Circuit affirmed and, finding Walker’s appeal frivolous, awarded damages and double costs under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38. View "Walker v. Health International Corp." on Justia Law

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Following a request from ICP, Customs issued a Ruling Letter, classifying ICP’s white sauce as “sauces and preparations therefor” under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) 2103.90.9060. Years later, Customs issued a Notice of Action reclassifying pending and future entries of white sauce as “[b]utter and . . . dairy spreads” under HTSUS 0405.20.3000, which increased the tariff by approximately 2400%. After protesting and paying duties on a single entry, ICP filed a claim in the Court of International Trade, alleging the Notice of Action improperly revoked the Ruling Letter without following the procedures required by 19 U.S.C. 1625(c). Since ICP filed its first action in 2005, the CIT has issued five separate opinions on the matter, two of which were appealed to the Federal Circuit. In awarding ICP attorney fees, the Trade Court found that “The record ... establishe[d] that the goverment position was rooted in a desire to avoid the timely revocation process” by using the Notice of Action, rather than following the procedures of 1625(c)(1). The Federal Circuit affirmed the award under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A), upholding the Trade Court’s analysis of whether the government’s conduct was “substantially justified.” View "International Custom Products, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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MOVA technology can capture an actor’s facial performance for use in motion picture special effects and video games; it is secured by trademarks, copyrights, and patents, and is reflected in hardware, source code, and physical assets. VGHL claims that Perlman, the head of Rearden, declined to acquire the MOVA assets from OL2 and proposed OL2 sell to a Rearden employee, LaSalle. Perlman introduced LaSalle to Rearden’s corporate attorney who helped LaSalle establish his own company, MO2, and negotiated with OL2. Perlman later demanded that LaSalle convey the MOVA assets to Rearden and terminated LaSalle’s employment when LaSalle refused. MO2 sold the MOVA assets to SHST, which hired LaSalle, and began selling the technology. The Rearden parties claimed that SHST never obtained ownership and that LaSalle was simply hired to handle the acquisition on Rearden’s behalf. SHST sued, alleging that Rearden had made “false or misleading representations ... concerning the ownership of the MOVA Assets ... to mislead the public and actual and prospective users and licensees” and had falsely recorded assignments of the MOVA patents. During discovery, SHST moved to compel Rearden to produce documents exchanged between MO2 and Rearden’s corporate attorney. The district court granted the request, concluding that Rearden had not shown entitlement to assert attorney-client privilege on behalf of MO2 and that LaSalle waived privilege when he shared documents. The Federal Circuit denied a petition for mandamus. Rearden's arguments failed to carry the high burden required on mandamus to overturn the court’s discovery determination. View "In re: Rearden, LLC" on Justia Law

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Schlumberger hired Rutherford in 2006. She was promoted to Director of Intellectual Property and later to Deputy General Counsel for Intellectual Property. Rutherford managed a copyright lawsuit and evaluated legal risks involving Petrel, Schlumberger’s software platform for three-dimensional modeling of oil wells. One competitor’s product analyzed during this project was Austin’s RECON software (the 319 patent). After seven years, Rutherford left Schlumberger. She began working as Senior Vice President and Associate General Counsel at Acacia, which began discussions to acquire the 319 patent. Petrel was discussed as a potential target of patent infringement litigation. Rutherford participated in the decision to hire CEP as outside counsel for all 319-patent-related litigation. Dynamic was formed to hold the 319 patent. Dynamic filed several lawsuits, including one accusing Petrel of infringement. On Schlumberger’s motion, the court disqualified Rutherford, other Acacia in-house counsel, and CEP from representing Dynamic in the case. Schlumberger also sued Rutherford in Texas state court, presenting evidence that she retained confidential, privileged information to provide to Acacia. The Texas court dismissed all but a breach-of-contract claim and sanctioned Schlumberger for bringing the suit. The federal district court found that Rutherford’s work at Schlumberger was substantially related to her work at Acacia; that the evidence of her involvement created an irrebuttable presumption that she acquired confidential information requiring her disqualification; that the acquired knowledge should be imputed to all Acacia attorneys for purposes of Dynamic’s suit; and that disqualification extended to CEP. Because the pleadings were drafted by disqualified counsel, the court dismissed Dynamic’s claims without prejudice. The Federal Circuit affirmed, citing the ABA Model Rules and the Texas Disciplinary Rules. View "Dynamic 3D Geosolutions LLC v. Schlumberger Ltd." on Justia Law

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In 2007, Kansas landowners sued, alleging that the government had taken their land without compensation by conversion of a rail corridor to a trail under the National Trail Systems Act, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The Claims Court granted the government summary judgment concerning five claims and certified questions to the Kansas Supreme Court concerning the scope of Kansas railroad easements. That court determined that it lacked jurisdiction to accept the certified question. The Claims Court then granted plaintiffs summary judgment plus attorney fees under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Act, 42 U.S.C. 4654(c), calculated using the lodestar method, where a reasonable number of hours expended is multiplied by the prevailing rate in the relevant community. Based on the “no-interest rule,” historical rates, rather than rates in force at the end of litigation, were to be used. Counsel sought $2,017,987 in fees and $201,924 in costs, based, in part, on rates in effect in Washington D.C. The court reduced the number of hours and applied the St. Louis rate for hours expended until 2010 and Washington D.C. rates for later work. The Federal Circuit denied a request to supplement the record and affirmed, upholding the reductions imposed by the lower court. View "Biery v. United States" on Justia Law

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Queen’s University at Kingston, Canada, owns patents directed to Attentive User Interfaces, which allow devices to change their behavior based on the attentiveness of a user—for example, pausing or starting a video based on a user’s eye-contact with the device. Queen’s sued, alleging that Samsung’s SmartPause feature infringed those patents. Throughout fact discovery, Queen’s University refused to produce certain documents. It produced privilege logs that withheld documents based on its assertion of a privilege relating to communications with its patent agents. A magistrate granted Samsung’s motion to compel, finding that the communications between Queen’s University employees and their non-attorney patent agents are not subject to the attorney-client privilege and that a separate patent-agent privilege does not exist. The district court declined to certify the issue for interlocutory appeal, but agreed to stay the production of the documents at issue pending a petition for writ of mandamus. The Federal Circuit granted that petition, finding that, consistent with Federal Rule of Evidence 501, a patent-agent privilege is justified “in the light of reason and experience” and extends to communications with non-attorney patent agents when those agents are acting within the agent’s authorized practice of law before the Patent Office. View "In Re: Queen's Univ. at Kingston" on Justia Law

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3M and TransWeb manufacture respirator filters, consisting of “nonwoven fibrous webs.” 3M sued Transweb for infringement of several patents. TransWeb sought a declaratory judgment of invalidity and non-infringement. A jury found the patents to be invalid based on TransWeb’s prior public use of the patented method. In accordance with an advisory verdict from the jury, the district court found the patents unenforceable due to inequitable conduct. An inventor for the patents and a 3M in-house attorney acted with specific intent to deceive the patent office as to the TransWeb materials. The district court awarded approximately $26 million to TransWeb, including trebled attorney fees as antitrust damages. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding sufficient corroborating evidence to support the finding of prior public use by TransWeb, and that attorney fees are an appropriate basis for damages under the antitrust laws in this context. TransWeb’s attorney fees appropriately flow from the unlawful aspect of 3M’s antitrust violation and are an antitrust injury that can properly serve as the basis for antitrust damages. View "Transweb, LLC v. 3M Innovative Props. Co." on Justia Law

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Lumen’s 073 patent is directed to facilitating multilateral decision-making by matching parties, using preference data from two classes of parties. FTB operates a search website with a comparison feature, “AssistMe,” that provides personalized product and service recommendations by asking the user questions about attributes of the desired product or service. Lumen alleged infringement. FTB repeatedly informed Lumen that FTB’s accused feature did not involve bilateral or multilateral preference matching. Before receiving any discovery, Lumen served preliminary infringement contentions, including a chart identifying the allegedly infringing features of AssistMe. The district court granted FTB judgment on the pleadings, holding that the patent’s claims are directed to an abstract idea and invalid for failure to claim patent-eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 101. The court found claim construction unnecessary and awarded attorney fees. Finding the case exceptional under 35 U.S.C. 285, the court stated “basic” pre-suit investigation would have shown that AssistMe only used one party's preference data. The court explained factors that supported enhancing the lodestar amount, including “the need to deter the plaintiff’s predatory strategy, the plaintiff’s desire to extract a nuisance settlement, the plaintiff’s threats to make the litigation expensive, and the frivolous nature of the plaintiff’s claims.” The Federal Circuit affirmed the "exceptional" finding, but remanded for proper explanation of the calculation of fees. View "Lumen View Tech., LLC v. Findthebest.Com, Inc" on Justia Law

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Landowners filed a class action suit challenging the federal Surface Transportation Board’s approval of King County using a Burlington Northern Railroad corridor as a public trail, pursuant the National Trails Systems Act Amendments of 1983, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The Claims Court approved a $110 million settlement agreement and an award to class counsel of approximately $35 million in attorney fees under the common fund doctrine. Two class members challenged the approval and award. The Federal Circuit vacated, noting that the government also challenged the approval, claiming that class counsel failed to disclose information necessary to allow class members to assess the fairness and reasonableness of the proposed settlement. The government had standing to raise its challenge under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act (URA), 42 U.S.C. 4654(c) and its arguments were not barred by waiver or estoppel.The Claims Court erred in approving a settlement agreement where class counsel withheld critical information not provided in the mailed notice to class members, but which had been produced and was readily available. Although a “common fund” exists in this case, the URA attorney fee provision provides for reasonable fees and preempts application of the common fund doctrine. View "Haggart v. United States" on Justia Law

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Tesco sued NOV for infringement of patents that involve an apparatus and method for handling sections of pipe used for lining a well-bore. NOV filed an answer, counterclaims, a request for attorney’s fees, and motions to compel requesting information about documents to show what occurred during the six months before the on-sale bar date. Ultimately, based on non-production of an original brochure, the court sanctioned Tesco by reversing the burden of proof on validity, setting the burden at a preponderance of evidence. The jury concluded that NOV infringed the relevant claims, found certain of those claims to be not invalid, and found that the brochure was not enabling. During post-trial discovery on the brochure. NOV filed “post-trial summary judgment motions of invalidity” (35 U.S.C. 102(b) and 103) based on what it asserts was disclosed in the brochure. The court granted NOV’s motion for obviousness, relying on an obvious-to-try analysis, set a trial date for the exceptional case counterclaim, and, later, issued an order sua sponte dismissing the case with prejudice under its inherent authority, finding that certain testimony was “contrary to the representations Tesco made to the Court during trial,” stating that the attorneys’ conduct was “entirely out of character ... serious and has had significant and costly ramifications.” The parties, including the attorneys, later entered into a settlement resolving all outstanding issues, and signed releases. The attorneys contend that, despite the settlement, the harm to their reputation from the court’s opinion justified continued jurisdiction. The Federal Circuit dismissed, finding no remaining case or controversy. View "Tesco Corp. v. Nat'l Oilwell Varco, L.P." on Justia Law