Monthly Archives: November, 2011

Taming The E-Discovery Beast

The Federal Circuit’s proposed Model Order on E-Discovery offers a number of good suggestions that should help reduce the burden of electronic discovery in patent cases, and some that merit further consideration and debate. Among the best ideas are the following three:

1. Requiring separate requests for email, rather than permitting email to be included in requests such as all documents and electronic information. This will sharpen the focus on just what types of email communications are relevant. We should consider whether all types of electronic information should be requested separately, and indeed whether to require that specific types of documents (correspondence, memoranda, drawings, etc.) should be specifically requested rather than encompassed with omnibus terms.

2. Limiting the metadata parties are required to produce to that revealing times of sending and receipt and the distribution list. There are times when creation and edit dates are important, so perhaps that also should be included. Most other metadata is typically irrelevant.

3. Presumptive limits of 5 custodians and 5 search terms. Those limits obviously will not be suitable in all cases, but at least we have a low-number starting point. The suggestions about how to treat conjunctive and disjunctive combinations of terms, and encouragement of the use of narrowing search criteria, are excellent.

Three ideas that merit more careful thought are:

1. The blanket exemption of disclosures of privileged esi from the usual rules concerning waiver, and prohibition on use of allegedly privileged material to challenge the privilege. One might consider whether we should go that far. Exclusion of material based on privilege is an obstacle to the discovery of truth, and examination of the privileged material itself is the best way to see if it should be privileged. Particularly since the model rules require that requests specify custodians and search terms and limit data to senders and recipients, it should be easier to identify privileged materials and therefore we may not need to be so tolerant of inadvertent disclosures.

2. The extent to which the proposed rules rely on cooperation among counsel. Not all patent litigants and litigators are particularly cooperative, and one might argue that we are better off just ringing the bell and allowing the parties to come out fighting rather than asking them to make nice first. The idea that parties will jointly agree to modify presumptive limits strikes me as fantastic. One side or another will always think it is in its interest to have less discovery rather than more and vice versa.

3. The decision not mandate initial disclosure of basic documentation about the patents, prior art, accused products and relevant finances. Why not?

The premise and impetus for the proposed model rules cannot be disputed. Far reaching electronic discovery can be tangential to the real issues in a patent case, and collecting volumes of electronic data with the idea that one will run key searches later is expensive and inefficient. The proposed model rules for patent litigation offer possible ways to address those concerns that merit serious examination, not just for patent cases, but for all intellectual property cases.

Monthly Archives: November, 2011

The Case for Software Versions, Registrations and Record-Keeping

A recent case from the First Circuit underlines the utility, from a copyright perspective, of delineating versions of software, registering each version, and keeping copies. That is not always so easily done, because unlike other copyrightable works, such as a novel, software is never done. There is always another bug to fix, feature to add or compatibility issue to address. But to effectively employ copyright protection, it is a necessity.

The concern is proof. In order to prove infringement, the copyright owner must first prove what it is that is copyrighted, and that a copyrighted work was registered. That is generally simple enough, but with an evolving work, such as software, it becomes less so. That was the case in Airframe Systems v. L-3 Communications. In that case, Airframe accused L-3 of unauthorized copying of its software between 1997 and 2003.

The court’s opinion reports that Airframe had some pretty damning evidence, particularly a comment in the L-3 code that said “I do not know what this code is used for so I will leave it here anyway.” The problem was, Airframe did not have a copy of the software as it existed in those years and hadn’t registered a version during those years. Airframe attempted to prove infringement by comparing the L-3 code to an updated version of the Airframe software from 2009. The court held that without a copyright registration for the software as it existed during the years in question, and without a way of proving exactly which portions of the 2009 code were present in the version L-3 was accused of copying, Airframe could not prove infringement. The opinion reviews a number of cases in which copyright claims failed because of the plaintiff’s inability to prove the contents of the work allegedly infringed, and discuss the applicability of the best evidence rule in this context.

It seems that Airframe may not have registered any version of its software between 1988 and 2003. That is too long. Software developers and makers of other evolving works should anticipate the need to prove the state of their products at different times and register snapshots that will enable them to prevail when infringements come to light.

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