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Archive for the ‘patent infringement’ Category

Breaking News: Federal Circuit Denies Google’s eDiscovery Mandamus Petition

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit dealt Google a devastating blow Monday in connection with Oracle America’s patent and copyright infringement suit against Google involving features of Java and Android. The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s order that a key email was not entitled to protection under the attorney-client privilege.

Google had argued that the email was privileged under Upjohn Co. v. United States, asserting that the message reflected discussions about litigation strategy between a company engineer and in-house counsel. While acknowledging that Upjohn would protect such discussions, the court rejected that characterization of the email.  Instead, the court held that the email reflected a tactical discussion about “negotiation strategy” with Google management, not an “infringement or invalidity analysis” with Google counsel.

Getting beyond the core privilege issues, Google might have avoided this dispute had it withheld the eight earlier drafts of the email that it produced to Oracle. As we discussed in our previous post, organizations conducting privilege reviews should consider using robust, next generation eDiscovery technology such as email analytical software, that could have isolated the drafts and potentially removed them from production. Other technological capabilities, such as Near Duplicate Identification, could also have helped identify draft materials and marry them up with finals marked as privileged. As this case shows, in the fast moving era of eDiscovery, having the right technology is essential for maintaining a strategic advantage in litigation.

Lessons Learned for 2012: Spotlighting the Top eDiscovery Cases from 2011

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

The New Year has now dawned and with it, the certainty that 2012 will bring new developments to the world of eDiscovery.  Last month, we spotlighted some eDiscovery trends for 2012 that we feel certain will occur in the near term.  To understand how these trends will play out, it is instructive to review some of the top eDiscovery cases from 2011.  These decisions provide a roadmap of best practices that the courts promulgated last year.  They also spotlight the expectations that courts will likely have for organizations in 2012 and beyond.

Issuing a Timely and Comprehensive Litigation Hold

Case: E.I. du Pont de Nemours v. Kolon Industries (E.D. Va. July 21, 2011)

Summary: The court issued a stiff rebuke against defendant Kolon Industries for failing to issue a timely and proper litigation hold.  That rebuke came in the form of an instruction to the jury that Kolon executives and employees destroyed key evidence after the company’s preservation duty was triggered.  The jury responded by returning a stunning $919 million verdict for DuPont.

The spoliation at issue occurred when several Kolon executives and employees deleted thousands emails and other records relevant to DuPont’s trade secret claims.  The court laid the blame for this destruction on the company’s attorneys and executives, reasoning they could have prevented the spoliation through an effective litigation hold process.  At issue were three hold notices circulated to the key players and data sources.  The notices were all deficient in some manner.  They were either too limited in their distribution, ineffective since they were prepared in English for Korean-speaking employees, or too late to prevent or otherwise ameliorate the spoliation.

The Lessons for 2012: The DuPont case underscores the importance of issuing a timely and comprehensive litigation hold notice.  As DuPont teaches, organizations should identify what key players and data sources may have relevant information.  A comprehensive notice should then be prepared to communicate the precise hold instructions in an intelligible fashion.  Finally, the hold should be circulated immediately to prevent data loss.

Organizations should also consider deploying the latest technologies to help effectuate this process.  This includes an eDiscovery platform that enables automated legal hold acknowledgements.  Such technology will allow custodians to be promptly and properly apprised of litigation and thereby retain information that might otherwise have been discarded.

Another Must-Read Case: Haraburda v. Arcelor Mittal U.S.A., Inc. (D. Ind. June 28, 2011)

Suspending Document Retention Policies

Case: Viramontes v. U.S. Bancorp (N.D. Ill. Jan. 27, 2011)

Summary: The defendant bank defeated a sanctions motion because it modified aspects of its email retention policy once it was aware litigation was reasonably foreseeable.  The bank implemented a retention policy that kept emails for 90 days, after which the emails were overwritten and destroyed.  The bank also promulgated a course of action whereby the retention policy would be promptly suspended on the occurrence of litigation or other triggering event.  This way, the bank could establish the reasonableness of its policy in litigation.  Because the bank followed that procedure in good faith, it was protected from court sanctions under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 37(e) “safe harbor.”

The Lesson for 2012: As Viramontes shows, an organization can be prepared for eDiscovery disputes by timely suspending aspects of its document retention policies.  By modifying retention policies when so required, an organization can develop a defensible retention procedure and be protected from court sanctions under Rule 37(e).

Coupling those procedures with archiving software will only enhance an organization’s eDiscovery preparations.  Effective archiving software will have a litigation hold mechanism, which enables an organization to suspend automated retention rules.  This will better ensure that data subject to a preservation duty is actually retained.

Another Must-Read Case: Micron Technology, Inc. v. Rambus Inc., 645 F.3d 1311 (Fed. Cir. 2011)

Managing the Document Collection Process

Case: Northington v. H & M International (N.D.Ill. Jan. 12, 2011)

Summary: The court issued an adverse inference jury instruction against a company that destroyed relevant emails and other data.  The spoliation occurred in large part because legal and IT were not involved in the collection process.  For example, counsel was not actively engaged in the critical steps of preservation, identification or collection of electronically stored information (ESI).  Nor was IT brought into the picture until 15 months after the preservation duty was triggered. By that time, rank and file employees – some of whom were accused by the plaintiff of harassment – stepped into this vacuum and conducted the collection process without meaningful oversight.  Predictably, key documents were never found and the court had little choice but to promise to inform the jury that the company destroyed evidence.

The Lesson for 2012: An organization does not have to suffer the same fate as the company in the Northington case.  It can take charge of its data during litigation through cooperative governance between legal and IT.  After issuing a timely and effective litigation hold, legal should typically involve IT in the collection process.  Legal should rely on IT to help identify all data sources – servers, systems and custodians – that likely contain relevant information.  IT will also be instrumental in preserving and collecting that data for subsequent review and analysis by legal.  By working together in a top-down fashion, organizations can better ensure that their eDiscovery process is defensible and not fatally flawed.

Another Must-Read Case: Green v. Blitz U.S.A., Inc. (E.D. Tex. Mar. 1, 2011)

Using Proportionality to Dictate the Scope of Permissible Discovery

Case: DCG Systems v. Checkpoint Technologies (N.D. Ca. Nov. 2, 2011)

The court adopted the new Model Order on E-Discovery in Patent Cases recently promulgated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  The model order incorporates principles of proportionality to reduce the production of email in patent litigation.  In adopting the order, the court explained that email productions should be scaled back since email is infrequently introduced as evidence at trial.  As a result, email production requests will be restricted to five search terms and may only span a defined set of five custodians.  Furthermore, email discovery in DCG Systems will wait until after the parties complete discovery on the “core documentation” concerning the patent, the accused product and prior art.

The Lesson for 2012: Courts seem to be slowly moving toward a system that incorporates proportionality as the touchstone for eDiscovery.  This is occurring beyond the field of patent litigation, as evidenced by other recent cases.  Even the State of Utah has gotten in on the act, revising its version of Rule 26 to require that all discovery meet the standards of proportionality.  While there are undoubtedly deviations from this trend (e.g., Pippins v. KPMG (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 7, 2011)), the clear lesson is that discovery should comply with the cost cutting mandate of Federal Rule 1.

Another Must-Read Case: Omni Laboratories Inc. v. Eden Energy Ltd [2011] EWHC 2169 (TCC) (29 July 2011)

Leveraging eDiscovery Technologies for Search and Review

Case: Oracle America v. Google (N.D. Ca. Oct. 20, 2011)

The court ordered Google to produce an email that it previously withheld on attorney client privilege grounds.  While the email’s focus on business negotiations vitiated Google’s claim of privilege, that claim was also undermined by Google’s production of eight earlier drafts of the email.  The drafts were produced because they did not contain addressees or the heading “attorney client privilege,” which the sender later inserted into the final email draft.  Because those details were absent from the earlier drafts, Google’s “electronic scanning mechanisms did not catch those drafts before production.”

The Lesson for 2012: Organizations need to leverage next generation, robust technology to support the document production process in discovery.  Tools such as email analytical software, which can isolate drafts and offer to remove them from production, are needed to address complex production issues.  Other technological capabilities, such as Near Duplicate Identification, can also help identify draft materials and marry them up with finals that have been marked as privileged.  Last but not least, technology assisted review has the potential of enabling one lawyer to efficiently complete the work that previously took thousands of hours.  Finding the budget and doing the research to obtain the right tools for the enterprise should be a priority for organizations in 2012.

Another Must-Read Case: J-M Manufacturing v. McDermott, Will & Emery (CA Super. Jun. 2, 2011)

Conclusion

There were any number of other significant cases from 2011 that could have made this list.  We invite you to share your favorites in the comments section or contact us directly with your feedback.

For more on the cases discussed above, watch this video:

When Is A Draft Note Discoverable?

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

The legal battles during the discovery phase of the Oracle v. Google Java licensing and patent infringement complaint are now well documented. Just search for “Lindholm email” and you’ll find pages and pages of opinions and blog posts on the case. Why so much fuss over a piece of email? Well, as Judge Alsup aptly describes, this is the type of smoking gun email that has the potential to “turn the case on its head.”  More importantly, this inadvertent email never needed to happen, if the parties had better leveraged existing eDiscovery technologies.

The eDiscovery battle over admissibility of this email, as well as whether it can be a public record, is natural and to be expected, especially in such a high profile dispute. Google has already made five attempts to either claw back these documents or protect them under seal. Besides the question of whether privilege waiver is in fact granted simply by adding an “Attorney Work Product” annotation to email, which Judge Alsup has eloquently addressed in the filing here, there is another interesting question to be considered. In addition to the two email copies that had the above designation, there were nine other sequential drafts, created within a five minute period. These drafts were generated by the “auto save” capability of the email software, possibly as a way to prevent the author of the email from losing partial work. Don’t we all love that feature, since despite all the technological advances computers crash, networks fail, and software freezes, and in those times we’re thankful that our work was indeed automatically saved? However, if these are indeed present, are these drafts discoverable, especially if they have not been shared with anyone?

Although in this instance the intent of these drafts is made evident by the final email, which included the recipients, none of the nine drafts of the email have a TO:, CC: or BCC: address field filled in. So technically, the drafts in their “pre-final” form were never communicated to anyone else. If so, should they even be considered electronically stored information (ESI) that needs to be produced? Let’s say that these emails were never sent and merely existed as drafts, perhaps capturing a person’s train of thought. Are they discoverable?

Of course, determining whether such partial and non-evidentiary ESI exists among your millions and millions of documents to be examined for production becomes increasingly the purview of powerful search and analysis software. In this instance, Google and their legal team would have been well-served by email analytical software that can isolate drafts and offer them for removal from production. Also, using a capability such as Near Duplicate Identification would have identified these drafts as similar to the final ones that were marked as privileged. After all, if the legal team had known of their existence prior to production, they would not have been surprised by the opposing team producing them as key documents.

I invite your comments, especially on the notion that partially completed drafts are admissible as evidence.

7th Circuit Electronic Discovery Pilot Program and the Principles on ESI

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

eDiscovery best practices, particularly practical ones, are hard to come by.  That’s why the Pilot Program of the 7th Circuit has been such a novel (and successful) undertaking.  As part of this program, judges, outside counsel and industry experts collaborated to practically deal with the many vexing eDiscovery challenges in the courtroom. By way of background, the 7th Circuit Electronic Discovery Pilot Program Committee was formed in May 2009 and was chartered to conduct a multi-year, multi-phase project to develop, implement, evaluate, and improve pretrial litigation procedures, which ideally would provide fairness and justice to all parties, while seeking to reduce the cost and burden of electronic discovery consistent with Rule 1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP).

The Committee, comprised of the most talented experts in the 7th Circuit, as well as experts in relevant fields of technology, promulgated “Principles Relating to the Discovery of Electronically Stored Information” (“Principles”) and a Proposed Standing Order by which participating judges could implement the Principles in the Pilot Program’s test cases.  Practicing lawyers wrote the Principles under the guidance of federal judges in Chicago, with the end result being a consensus from experts in the field of eDiscovery rather than a prescriptive approach dictated by the courts.  The Committee now has 80 members, including members from all 7 federal districts in the 7th Circuit and around the country, and is chaired by Chief Judge Holderman and Magistrate Judge Nolan of the Northern District of Illinois. The Principles provide a checklist of important considerations for the initial meet and confer conference, as well as even-handed rules regarding preserving and producing electronically stored information (ESI) that provide more granularity to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The 7th Circuit has been well-received, and evangelists are jumping on board in other Circuits, including the 9th Circuit.  Art Gollwitzer, a member of the 7th Circuit eDiscovery Pilot Program Committee, practices patent law, was key in the formation of the Principles notably the Preservation Principle 2.04, and now heads the National Outreach Committee for the 7th Circuit Program.  In a recent case, Joao Control & Monitoring Systems of California, LLC v. ACTI Corp., et al., Case No. SA CV10-1909-DOC, in the Central District of California, Art was pleasantly surprised to see language that he helped write in a draft ESI order handed out by the court to the parties for their consideration at the initial status conference.  “I was very happy to see the exact language that our committee drafted after many hours of discussion in the summer of 2009 in the court’s proposed order,” Art explained.  “We worked hard to reduce the cost and burden of electronic discovery and to prevent ESI discovery from turning into a game of ‘gotcha’.”

The goal of the National Outreach Committee is to spread the word about the 7th Circuit’s ESI Program and its benefits.  “We envision spreading the word through articles, speeches, and ‘grass-roots’ or word-of-mouth efforts,” says Gollwitzer. To that end, liaisons in each Circuit or even each district can talk to judges and encourage colleagues to propose that courts adopt the Committee’s principles in Rule 26(f) orders on a case-by-case basis.  “We also can describe the program and its principles at local bar associations and Inns of Court,” he explains.  “Finally, we can volunteer for local rules committees or comment on ESI proposals for local rules.”

With each jurisdiction having its own local rules and each legal community having its own flavor, the exercise of bringing all stakeholders into the process to contribute to the Principles is unprecedented.  Whether each Circuit starts their own Pilot Programs, or initially adopts the 7th Circuit’s Principles and then modifies as necessary, remains to be seen.  Either way, results from the 7th Circuit have been positive thus far, generating supporters nationally.  The hope is that courts and practitioners will start with these Principles in order to avoid a patchwork of ESI rules across the country.

The general consensus of the participating judges in Phase I of the Pilot Program was that the Principles were having a positive effect both on counsel’s cooperation with opposing counsel, and on counsel’s knowledge of procedures to be followed when addressing electronic discovery issues. The judges felt that the involvement of eDiscovery liaisons required by Principle 2.02 contributed to a more efficient and cost effective discovery process. Many of the participating lawyers reported little impact on their cases, presumably mostly because of the limited 6-month duration of Phase I. Those lawyers who did see an effect from the application of the Principles in their cases overwhelmingly reported that the effect was positive in terms of promoting fairness, fostering more amicable dispute resolution, and facilitating their advocacy on behalf of their clients. The Committee intends to present its Final Report on the 2-year Phase II evaluation at the 7th Circuit Bar Association Meeting in May 2012.

While most attorneys are following the guidance of Principle 2.01 (a) and (c), Duty to Meet and Confer on Discovery and to Identify Disputes for Early Resolution, it is barely the majority.  And curiously, a significant minority of attorneys acknowledged they had not familiarized themselves with their client’s information systems or had early discussions with their opponents about ESI preservation issues even though they were applicable in the case.

What does this suggest? For one thing, the landscape is improving – but there is still a long way to go.  Why would even a single attorney with a case in the Pilot Program ignore relevant ESI issues? One of the major problems with the vagueness of the Federal Rules was a lack of clear-cut guidance. Now, even though there is a Standing Order in the case providing guidance and Principle 2.01 (d) outlining sanctions that could be imposed for failure to comply, some lawyers still do not.

Every Circuit should be forming a Committee and bringing practitioners, judges and experts together to weigh in on these important ESI issues.  Fortunately, there is a successful model available with hard data.  The 7th Circuit’s Principles and Standing Order are a good place to start.

Adams v. Dell Questions Custodian-Based Retention and Litigation Hold Practices in Electronic Discovery

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

I was at the Sedona Conference Working Group’s Mid Year meeting last week where 80 or so electronic discovery practitioners and judges met to discuss hot topics in bucolic Denver, Colorado.  Without getting into the particulars of any discussion, several themes continue to stay on the front burner, including the progress of the cooperation proclamation and the relatively newer issue of proportionality (as highlighted recently by The American College of Trial Lawyers Task Force on Discovery).

Aside from those overarching themes I was struck by how polarizing the discussion was around one recent case in particular.  While many notable commentators have already made this the most talked about cases of the year, Phillip M. Adams & Assoc., LLC v. Dell, Inc., 2009 WL 910801 (D. Utah Mar. 30, 2009) continues to stimulate discussion.   Adams v. Dell is a patent infringement case where the plaintiff, alleged that one of the defendants (ASUS) destroyed critical pieces of evidence and should be sanctioned accordingly.

The underlying facts and timelines are fairly complex, but in summary the dispute centered around the alleged infringement of several patents developed to resolve defects in floppy disks during in the late 80′s.  What makes this decision so vexing is that it starts out as a preservation case, but quickly confuses that concept with data retention and information management practices/policies.

So, starting with the preservation angle…  Both sides fortunately agreed about the definition for the duty to preserve evidence, which in the 10th circuit begins when a party “knows or should know [it] is relevant to imminent or ongoing litigation.”  The triggering of the preservation duty was not surprisingly much more complicated and ASUS (the responding party) claimed that its duty to preserve wasn’t triggered until early 2005, when they received a letter warning it of potential litigation because of the alleged patent infringement.  But, the Magistrate held that “counsel’s letter is not the inviolable benchmark” and the duty to preserve was triggered much earlier (in the 1999-2000 time frame) because similar litigation was rampant in the industry, highlighted by a late 1999 suit where Toshiba paid billions of dollars in a class action settlement related to similar floppy disk issues.

Leaving the murky preservation issue by the wayside for a bit, the Magistrate then moved into ASUS’ claims that FRCP 37(e) provided a safe harbor for its alleged destruction.

“ASUS claims it can find a safe harbor against sanctions because of the recently adopted rule that sanctions may not be generally imposed for ‘failing to provide electronically stored information lost’ if a party can show the loss was ‘a result of the routine, good-faith operation of an electronic information system.’”

Nice try, but strike two for ASUS…

“ASUS provided an extensive declaration from an experienced consultant in e-discovery. While he stated the reasons for and history of ASUS’ ‘distributed information architecture,’ he did not state any opinion as to the reasonableness or good-faith in the system’s operation. And while he says ‘ASUSTeK’s data architecture relies predominantly on storage on individual user’s workstations,’ his 31-page declaration does not show he is familiar with the precise practices pointed out in the declarations of employees. Those employees’ declarations describe the practice of ASUS’ email system to overwrite old data regardless of its significance; ASUS’ reliance on employees for all email and data archiving; and the process of replacement of computers, which also relies on employees to transfer data from their old to their new computers. Neither the expert nor ASUS speak of archiving ‘policies;’ they speak of archiving ‘practices.’

The court’s distinction between “policies” and “practices” seems like a convenient (perhaps “Deus ex machina”) way to discount ASUS’ data retention activities and prevent the use of the FRCP 37(e) safe harbor.  Since in most instances, “bona fide, consistent and reasonable” document retention “policies” have been found to be presumptively valid by everyone ranging from Sedona (Guideline 3) to Carlucci v. Piper Aircraft Corp. and Arthur Andersen LLP v. United States, 125 S.Ct. 2129 (2005).  It’s not clear how he draws the important “practices” distinction and why said practices are exponentially different from presumptively valid “policies.”

It’s precisely this line of thinking that confuses the alleged failure of the duty to preserve (discussed at the outset of the opinion) with the duty to retain information.  The court seems to think it’s an “unreasonable” practice to have custodians responsible for compliance with data retention and this deficiency made the safe harbor unavailable.

“ASUS has explained that it has no centralized storage of electronic documents, email or otherwise, and relies on individual employees to archive email (which will be deleted if left on the server) and electronic documents (which reside only on individual workstations).”

Not only is this custodian-based retention practice, in and of itself, reasonable; it’s probably the most common form of data retention practices seen at corporations today.  While a number of vendors have promised intelligent retention systems that work without any significant human intervention, for the most part those solutions are still in their infancy.  Additionally, there are significant technical challenges to have an application manage *all* ESI (Electronically Stored Information) that exist for a given custodian (including desktop files, instant messaging, text messaging, social media, etc.) As such, most companies must inherently rely upon their custodians to both retain and preserve data pursuant to company policies.  The court not only seems to miss this point, but also attempts to impose an obligation that corporations must prevent the “loss of data” above and beyond specific preservation obligations.

“ASUS’ practices invite the abuse of rights of others, because the practices tend toward loss of data. The practices place operations-level employees in the position of deciding what information is relevant to the enterprise and its data retention needs. ASUS alone bears responsibility for the absence of evidence it would be expected to possess. While Adams has not shown ASUS mounted a destructive effort aimed at evidence affecting Adams or at evidence of ASUS’ wrongful use of intellectual property, it is clear that ASUS’ lack of a retention policy and irresponsible data retention practices are responsible for the loss of significant data.”

Although the exact rationale was unclear, the court held that ASUS violated their duty to preserve and that the loss of evidence could not be excused as a “routine, good faith operation of electronic information systems.” While the court ruled that sanctions were appropriate, it reserved final sanctions pending the close of discovery.   Depending on what those ultimate sanctions look like, it seems pretty likely that this decision will be subject to appellate review.  Until then, it’s probably too soon to treat this questionable holding as gospel.  Wary corporations however should continue to bolster the “reasonableness” of their information management/retention/destruction policies and practices so that in hindsight a court won’t be able to take away the FRCP electronic discovery 37(e) safe harbor by casting those “practices” as being unreasonable.