Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Patents Government The Courts News

Judge Makes Lawyers Pay For Frivolous Patent Suit 263

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the not-making-partner-anytime-soon dept.
Gallenod writes "The Denver Post is reporting that the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the decision of a Federal judge who threw out and reversed a jury decision in favor of a patent infringement claim and ordered the plaintiff's lawyers to pay the defendants' court costs. U.S. District Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch sanctioned the plaintiff's attorneys for 'cavalier and abusive' misconduct and for having a 'what can I get away with?' attitude during a 13-day patent infringement trial in Denver. With the Appeals Court in agreement, could this case be the 'shot heard round the world' in the revolution against patent trolls?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Judge Makes Lawyers Pay For Frivolous Patent Suit

Comments Filter:
  • Why? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by arizwebfoot (1228544)
    So why did the judge reverse? I always thought that the Jury was the "trier of fact".
    Aha, first post?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by plague3106 (71849)
      A judge can do that if he feels the jury made a wrong decision. I'm not sure if its only in civil cases (which this is) or in criminal cases.. although I think in criminal cases they can only throw out an improper guilty verdict, not an innocent one.
      • AFAIK that's because in U.S. criminal cases the defendant has the right to a jury trial. Changning the jurys acquittal to a guilty verdict would nullify that right.
        • by sconeu (64226)
          They also have a right to a jury trial in civil cases, so long as you're dealing with more than $20.
      • by terrymr (316118)
        It varies by jurisdiction - but most have some options for "Post verdict relief" where the evidence did not support the jury's verdict. Even in criminal cases.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by SatanicPuppy (611928) *
        It's pretty much only when the jury comes to a conclusion that is in opposition with the known facts of the case, though the whole thing can be tossed because of irregularities in the conduct of the lawyers as well.

        The judges also have a large amount of say in the verdict, though there they have to follow precedent and the law; if a jury tries to award an absurdly high (or low) amount of money (based on precedent) the judge can throw out or modify the verdict within the scope of the law.
      • by whoever57 (658626)

        I think in criminal cases they can only throw out an improper guilty verdict, not an innocent one.
        You may be wrong about that -- a friend who was studying law told me that judges can impose guilty verdicts even if a jury finds the other way. Whether this actually happens, I don't know.
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Informative)

      by ridgecritter (934252) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:24PM (#22550090)
      Judges have broad authority to set aside or nullify a jury verdict. Usually called "judgement non obstante veredicto", or judgement notwithstanding the verdict. If the judge strongly believes the jury got the facts and/or the applicable law very badly wrong, a jnov can be entered. It's unusual, as juries are accorded very strong cred as the triers of fact.
      • Where does that leave jury nullification? In that situation the jury is explicitly judging the law itself to be unjust. That wasn't the case in this trial, but such a practice would seem to nullify nullification.
    • An appeals court only rules on questions of law and leaves questions of fact to the jury because the jury heard the testimony and can judge for themselves how credible the witnesses were. The trial judge, however, is given more latitude because he (or she) heard everything the jury did.
  • by pwnies (1034518) * <j@jjcm.org> on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:20PM (#22550028) Homepage Journal
    ...if dumb lawsuits slowly disappear, where will I get my humor from on /.?
  • Wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <`Satanicpuppy' `at' `gmail.com'> on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:21PM (#22550042) Journal
    I never thought this one would stand up to appeal...The judge threw out the jury verdict and then made the plaintiff pay the court costs. Read that again: he threw out the jury verdict.

    And the appeals court backed him up! Holy crap! I guess that's one way to deal with stupid juries and slick lawyers...Get some decent judges who aren't willing to put up with the crap.
    • by terrymr (316118)
      This is not that unusual - the reason it happens is something like this :

      The judge hears all the evidence and concludes that it's not even close the defendant should win.

      If he dismisses the case before it goes to the jury he can be certain that it will be appealed. If he lets the jury come back with a verdict in favor of the plaintiff it likely ends there. When this goes wrong and the jury returns an obviously stupid verdict the judge overrules it knowing that there will be an appeal but the defendant is
      • Re:Wow. (Score:5, Informative)

        by DragonWriter (970822) on Monday February 25, 2008 @04:18PM (#22550790)

        If he dismisses the case before it goes to the jury he can be certain that it will be appealed. If he lets the jury come back with a verdict in favor of the plaintiff it likely ends there. When this goes wrong and the jury returns an obviously stupid verdict the judge overrules it knowing that there will be an appeal but the defendant is no worse off than if the case had been dismissed before the jury verdict.


        IIRC, the important difference that this glosses over is that if the judge enters a decision prior to the verdict (a judgement as a matter of law), rather than overturning the jury verdict, if there is an appeal and the judge's decision is thrown out on appeal, it can require a empaneling a new jury and trying the case again. Whereas, if the jury returns a verdict and the judge enters a JNOV and that is appealed, the original jury verdict still exists and can be entered (or modified less radically.)
    • by mapkinase (958129)
      Jury is an outrageous abuse of both democracy and legal system. It is basically a competition between lawyers who will manipulate better the ignorant randomly selected civilians.

      Judges should be elected from amongst the most trustworthy citizens with legal education. "12 angry men" my butt.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by phliar (87116)

        Jury is an outrageous abuse of both democracy and legal system. It is basically a competition between lawyers who will manipulate better the ignorant randomly selected civilians.

        Only because some citizens do everything possible to not get on a jury. As the old joke goes, juries are made up of people too stupid to get out of jury duty. (How many times have you done your civic duty and served on a jury?)

        If we picked our government at random from the citizens things wouldn't be as fucked up as they are tod

      • by jeti (105266)

        Jury is an outrageous abuse of both democracy and legal system. It is basically a competition between lawyers who will manipulate better the ignorant randomly selected civilians.
        Would you make similar claims about elections? If not, what is the critical difference?
        • by Tony Hoyle (11698)
          Elections are completely different. They're a competition between *tv channels* who will manipulate better the ignorant civilians.

          It's the known flaw in democracy - voters are generally just voting for the guy who their parents voted for/has the best hair/looks like them - they are not voting on issues. That's why we have representatives (senators, mps, call them what you like) whose job is to actually know what the fuck they're voting about.

          Unfortunately on that last point there's a small problem :p
    • Read that again: he threw out the jury verdict.
      Scary.

      Get some decent judges who aren't willing to put up with the crap.
      Even scarier.

      So, hm, you don't care much for the "trial by jury" thing?

      Oh, you do? But only when you agree with the verdict?

      There's a word for that sort of system.... I can't think of it atm.
  • by TitusC3v5 (608284) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:21PM (#22550046) Homepage
    Is that you? We've missed you!
    • by esocid (946821)
      It's great! It was tied up in a patent trolling case recently and was not allowed to comment.
    • by Yath (6378)
      Don't be too gleeful. Remember that the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff. Where was common sense then?
    • by zalas (682627)
      Yeah, it was such a Paine without you!
  • No impact on patents (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:23PM (#22550068)
    Frivolous cases, of all kinds, are often struck down with costs. No reason to think this will have any significant impact on patents, any more than on other laws.
    • by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:30PM (#22550192) Journal
      Indeed. I don't see why this is all that revolutionary. It was a patent infringement trial, which gets our attention, but it simply appears to be a judge who felt that the jury was out to lunch and that the plaintiff's lawyers were playing games and wasting the court's time. In short, they pissed off a judge even after being given instructions, and he's responded.
    • by DrEldarion (114072) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:35PM (#22550274)
      It's significant because typically the lawyers aren't the ones paying the opposing team's costs. Usually, the lawyers always win every trial, because they get paid no matter what. If you punish the lawyers themselves for going ahead with cases they know are frivolous, then you'll start to see far, far fewer lawyers taking frivolous cases.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kalirion (728907)
        Who decides what's "frivolous"? Is it the same people who decide what's "obscene"?
  • by newgalactic (840363) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:25PM (#22550094)
    Law is a slow beast to change, by design. Technology will advance much faster then Law. As a result, we'll continue to see issues like the one we face with "patent infringement". But, Law does eventually change to correct itself. I'm relieved to see that things are working as they should.
    • by aztektum (170569)
      How does that explain crap like the PATRIOT Act or any other crud passed in a hurry since 9/11?? Law changes quickly when it benefits the right people.
    • by hyades1 (1149581)

      I think it's still illegal to drive a motor vehicle through my town after dark unless two men bearing lanterns walk in front of it. Does this mean that could change soon?

      Yippee!

  • by jmichaelg (148257) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:32PM (#22550210) Journal
    Reading the article (gasp!) left me with the impression that the Judge was ticked off because of the attorney's behavior and method of prosecuting their case and not that the Judge thought the patents were bogus. It's as if the plaintiff is getting nailed because it hired a pair of SOB's to press its case.

    Perhaps there's a clearer report out there?
    • by esocid (946821) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:43PM (#22550380) Journal

      Reading the article (gasp!) left me with the impression that the Judge was ticked off because of the attorney's behavior and method of prosecuting their case and not that the Judge thought the patents were bogus. It's as if the plaintiff is getting nailed because it hired a pair of SOB's to press its case.
      I believe that is partially the point. They wasted the court's time by pursuing a case that was baseless and had no grounds by simply trying to litigate the other company out of existence. The prosecuting lawyers acting like arrogant fools trying to make a buck in the world of patent trolling. But just for fun here is another link to the story [abajournal.com] and the judge's ruling (PDF) [amlaw.com].
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Reading the article (gasp!) left me with the impression that the Judge was ticked off because of the attorney's behavior and method of prosecuting their case and not that the Judge thought the patents were bogus. It's as if the plaintiff is getting nailed because it hired a pair of SOB's to press its case.

      I read the same article. That's not how I read it. There were apparently 2 problems.
      1) The lawsuit was frivolous and that caused the judge to set aside the jury verdict. The jury blew it, but they us
  • by CajunArson (465943) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:37PM (#22550292) Journal
    The article notes that the technology here is for guiding scalpels to do precision work on brain tumors, so the subject matter is highly technical in nature. I'd like to see what the actual patents involved are before making a judgment. This case might have come down to the (apparently off the wall) behavior of the lawyers, even if the plaintiff may have had a legitimate case.
        One thing you have to remember is that (with rare exceptions) the court is only going to go with the arguments that each side presents. It is not the judge's or jury's job to go out and collect evidence and make up a decision, it is instead their job to decide the case based on the evidence actually submitted and arguments actually made by opposing parties (this is called the "adversarial system"). Even if the plaintiff may have had a case, if these lawyers went out and did a completely shitty job of presenting it, presented no real evidence, and made no real legal arguments, then they can and will lose the case. The extra sanctions here are quite unusual, and go beyond the negative consequences of just not doing a good job of lawyering. I think that these "respected litigators" were probably ignoring the judge's instructions and committing other infractions that REALLY pissed the judge off. On appeal, the court does NOT hear new facts, so the appeals court went with the factual record and judgment of the District Court judge on this one.
  • by kalpol (714519) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:37PM (#22550302) Homepage
    Judge Matsch was the presiding judge at Timothy McVeigh's trial, if anyone remembers.
  • Patent Trolls have fast healing 7... the judge tried using some acid to make sure it stayed down but I'm not sure...
  • The Denver Post story nor the Slashdot write-up give any detail about what the exact claims where in this case, so while it *MIGHT* be a patent troll case (and given the judge's remarks, that seems likely), it's kind of hard to really tell, from what we know.

    But, this is Slashdot, guilty as charged...

  • by sm62704 (957197) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:47PM (#22550450) Journal
    Me make fun of illiterate editors
  • by Linker3000 (626634) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:47PM (#22550452) Journal
    "could this case be the 'shot heard round the world' in the revolution against patent trolls?"

    Not until/unless (take your pick) US legal jurisdiction extends round the world - on an official level!

    • by ArsonSmith (13997)
      I'm sorry...did those people not in the US think they were part of the world? How quaint.
    • by DaveV1.0 (203135)
      I have no idea why you were modded up, because your comment is stupid.

      The "shot heard round the world" refers to the shots fired at Lexington and Concord that started the American Revolutionary War. It is metaphor for something that starts a major change. It does not mean that it will effect the entire world.
  • by Anita Coney (648748) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:53PM (#22550508) Homepage
    United States District Court,
    D. Colorado.
    MEDTRONIC NAVIGATION, INC., Medtronic Sofamor Danek, Inc., Sofamor Danek Holdings, Inc., St. Louis University, and Trustees of Dartmouth College, Plaintiffs,
    v.
    BRAINLAB MEDIZINISCHE COMPUTERSYSTEMS GMBH, Brainlab AG, Brainlab USA, Inc., and Brainlab, Inc., Defendants.
    Civil Action No. 98-cv-01072-RPM.
    Feb. 12, 2008.

    Anthony Lawrence Giacomini, Sean Connelly, Daniel M. Reilly, Hoffman, Reilly, Pozner & Williamson, L.L.P., Conor Fitzgerald Farley, Lee Frederick Johnston, Holland & Hart, LLP, Denver, CO, J. James Li, Vera M. Elson, McDermott Will & Emery, LLP, Palo Alto, CA, Krista Leigh Vink Venegas, McDermott, Will & Emery, Los Angeles, CA, Kurt A. Luther, Leslie I. Bookoff, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow Garrett & Dunner, Washington, DC, David W. Harlan, Senniger Powers, St. Louis, MO, for Plaintiffs.

    James Edward Hartley, Holland & Hart, LLP, Denver, CO.

    Jay R. Campbell, John J. Del Col, Joshua M. Ryland, Renner, Otto, Boisselle & Sklar, LLP, Kyle B. Fleming, Cleveland, OH, L. Andrew Cooper, Marc David Flink, Thomas H. Shunk, Baker & Hostetler, Denver, CO, for Defendants.

    ORDER FOR AWARD OF ATTORNEY FEES AND COSTS TO BRAINLAB DEFENDANTS

    RICHARD P. MATSCH, Senior District Judge.
    *1 The defendants (collectively BrainLAB) seek to recover all of their attorney fees and costs incurred in the defense of this suit for patent infringement, contending that it was filed and prosecuted not to protect the technology protected by the patent claims but to drive a competitor out of a market for an emerging technology for application in the navigation of surgical instruments in procedures requiring exquisite precision, as in the removal of a brain tumor. Medtronic Navigation, Inc. (Medtronic) and its predecessor Surgical Navigation Technologies, Inc. (SNT) marketed variations of a device called "StealthStation" in competition with BrainLAB's "VectorVision" devices. The accused devices can be described as passive optical systems in contrast to an active acoustic system. That contrasting technology was at the core of this case.

    BrainLAB contends that it is entitled to fees and costs because this is an exceptional case justifying relief under 35 U.S.C. 285; that plaintiffs' lead counsel should be held responsible under 28 U.S.C. 1927 and that the Court should grant the motion in the exercise of its inherent authority to protect the integrity of the processes of adjudication. Upon reflection, this Court finds and concludes that the rulings on the claims construction issues adjudicated the fairly debatable issues in this case and that the manner in which plaintiffs' counsel continued the prosecution of the claims through trial was in disregard of their obligations as officers of the court. The fairness of the adversary system of adjudication depends upon the assumption that trial lawyers will temper zealous advocacy of their client's cause with an objective assessment of its merit and be candid in presenting it to the court and to opposing counsel. When that assumption has been contradicted by a trial record of conduct reflecting a winning is all that is important approach to the trial process, the court has a duty to redress this resulting harm to the opposing party.

    BrainLAB has made a plausible argument that this entire civil action was frivolous. The chronology of the suit must be viewed against the backdrop of developments in the field of image-guided surgical navigation technology.

    In approximately 1991, SNT began development of an image-guided surgical navigation product. SNT worked with Dr. Richard Bucholz of St. Louis University. SNT also collaborated with Dr. Peter Heilbrun of the University of Utah. In 1994, SNT obtained rights to the application for patent that issued as U.S. Patent No. B1 5,383,454 to Bucholz (the 454 Patent or the Bucholz Patent). The claims of that patent relate to a system that depends on the activation of sound emitters on a surgical instrument and the pati
  • by DRJlaw (946416) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:57PM (#22550548)
    Simply put, no.

    "After the court issued its claim construction rulings, Medtronic's counsel proceeded cavalierly, with reckless indifference to the merits of Medtronic's infringement claims," Matsch wrote."

    "Matsch said the McDermott lawyers willfully ignored his rulings on claim construction in their arguments before a Colorado jury in 2005. In patent cases, those orders define the scope of the patents and, therefore, what the plaintiff's lawyers can argue for infringement."

    "The judge said in his Tuesday ruling that while McDermott paid lip service to the orders, the lawyers improperly pointed the jury toward Medtronic's broad reading of the patents. McMahon also made comparisons of the two companies' products, the StealthStation and VectorVision, instead of comparing Medtronic's patents to BrainLAB's product, "contrary to established law," Matsch wrote."

    Summary for lawyers [law.com]

    In the anatomy of the typical patent case, there is

    1. The filing of a suit
    2. Discovery
    3. A so-called "Markman hearing" to resolve disputes between the litigants as to the meaning of disputed terms or phrases within the patent claims
    4. Summary judgment motions
    5. A trial (bench or jury)
    6. Post-verdict motions
    7. Appeal

    If you read through the judge's ruling, or even the law.com article, it's apparent that the judge believed that the trial was unnecessary, and that the case could and should have been resolved by summary judgment (and any subsequent appeal). If the case had ended at this point, there would likely be no talk of sanctions or the like. Therefore the answer to the question at the end of the summary is no.

    All the rest relates to the judge's determination that 1. the platintiff's attorneys misrepresented the state of the case in their briefs opposing the motions for summary judgment that would have ended the trial phase and 2. the plaintiff's attorneys disregarded both his rulings in case and unequivocable legal standards for what does and does not constitute patent infringement.

    To use bad sports analogies, this ruling is the red card or the technical foul called on the field, not a warning that the team should never have attempted to play the game.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:59PM (#22550564) Homepage Journal
    The judge should have been able to set against the frivolous lawyers a "strike" that would add up towards disbarment if they did it again. Given repeated frivolity found by courts, lawyers should get a warning, a fine, a suspension and finally disbarment as the strikes accumulate over time, perhaps resetting once a year or 5 or 10 or 20 if not repeated. Perhaps several strikes assigned at once when the frivolity is really serious and the judge wants to push them towards disbarment, or out completely.

    Then lawyers will be a lot more careful about flooding the courts with these worthless cases just because they have nothing better to do (and the client pays). That's their sworn job anyway, as "officers of the court", but they don't honor that oath without teeth when they break it - they're lawyers. And for those who see good cases get rejected just because they're not open/shut for lazy lawyers, that kind of refusal is also grounds for suing lawyers; suits in which the judges typically look very critically on the lawyers who should be staying out of trouble. Maybe that counterbalance needs stronger teeth, too, but there's certainly plenty of ways to get these lawyers to respect the merits of a case, whether trying or refusing it.
  • by Ollabelle (980205) on Monday February 25, 2008 @04:06PM (#22550672)
    I read a bit of background on this http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202990197454 [law.com] and noted that the judge in pre-trial motions restricted the construction of the patent claim to fairly narrow grounds. But in the trial, the lawyers ignored that restriction and, among other things, showed the jury how the two competing products were similar rather than showing how the competing product used their client's patent. If effect, the jury based their reasoning on improper evidence. The judge rightfully tossed the verdict and slammed the lawyers for their deceitfulness.

    Now, where's my violin?

  • I just wanted to add something based on a comment in that story, though it may be directly applicable to this particular case.

    The comment had to do with some other case, over the law of adverse possession (which I believe is just another way saying squating). He said in that case the just was just doing his job, and judging based on the law.

    Well that's not entirely correct. Yes, a judges job is to know the law and try to decide if one has been broken or not. And the judge can overide the jury if he choo
  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Monday February 25, 2008 @04:30PM (#22550922) Homepage

    After presiding over the 13-day trial, Matsch wrote that McDermott's lawyers not only disregarded his instructions during the trial but argued "with full awareness that their case was without merit."
    (IANAL). If the lawyers disregarded the judge's instructions, shouldn't the judge have found them in contempt of court and declared a mistrial? It seems like waiting until the jury came to a decision and then overturning it doesn't result in a fair verdict.
  • could this case be the 'shot heard round the world' in the revolution against patent trolls?

    Only if they heard it loud and clear in Marshal, Texas.

nohup rm -fr /&

Working...