Author Archives: David Allgeyer

About David Allgeyer

For over 30 years, I have been a partner at the law firm of Lindquist & Vennum, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I have litigated, arbitrated and mediated cases in state and federal trial and appellate courts and hearing rooms throughout the United States, including those involving intellectual property protection and licensing, patents, trademarks, trade secrets, and copyrights, as well as related issues of unfair competition. I have been appointed an arbitrator in over sixty commercial arbitrations and have successfully mediated dozens of cases ranging from patent, trademark, copyright and other commercial disputes to disputes in most areas of civil law.

Arbitrating the Patent Case Part XVIII: Presenting Testimony at the Hearing

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We have previously had a look at many aspects of arbitrating patent cases, beginning with the type of cases likely to be arbitrated, arbitration clauses, and the arbitration process up to the hearing.  We then began looking at the hearing itself, beginning with sequestration issues that can arise, opening statements, and case organization.  We went on to presenting documents on the hearing, including the positives — and pitfalls — of electronic document presentation as well as some observations on how most arbitrators actually use documents during the hearing and decision-making process.

We will now take a look at presenting testimony at the hearing.

TranscriptsFirst, an observation on having a transcript of testimony.  Most arbitrators I know would prefer to have a transcript if possible.  Most arbitrators, like most lawyers, are quite gifted note takers, having had decades of practice.  But notes often are not a perfect substitute for a verbatim transcript on closely contested issues.  The transcript gives everyone a way to be very precise about what the testimony was.

But most arbitrators are also committed to trying to keep costs down if at all possible, so it is unlikely that an arbitrator will ever insist or even suggest it is necessary that the parties bear the additional costs of a transcript.

So when is a transcript worth the cost?  Here is one way to think about it.

Many patent arbitrations are very document heavy so that the real evidence is in the documents.  In most patent cases, much of the key evidence is found in the patents, prosecution history, technical information about the involved products, financial documents, and the like.  While explanations and discussion of these documents and the issues raised by them in testimony is important and may even be critical, a verbatim transcript of what was said may not be necessary or worth the price.  The details are in the documents.  A transcript could  be overkill.

Occasionally, however, a case can turn on the testimony itself, particularly where the documentary evidence is lacking and personal accounts are critical.  If your case is likely to turn on that kind of information, then a transcript is likely worth the price.  This is particularly so if there is a great deal at stake that helps justify the added expense.

Presenting the testimony.  Let’s turn now to presenting witness testimony at the hearing.  Of course, as in any hearing the testimony will be under oath and subject to cross examination.  Because of the relative informality of the proceedings, it will be tempting to lead the witness to save time.  Avoid the temptation.  It simply is not as persuasive to ask the witness to agree to what the lawyer states as it is to elicit real testimony.  The arbitrator already has a pretty good idea what the lawyer would like the witness to say.  The real question is what the witness actually knows, not what he or she will agree to.

Because the rules of evidence in arbitration are relaxed, it may be tempting to take advantage of that and elicit hearsay and other testimony that would never be allowed during a court proceeding.  But be careful. Don’t confuse the ability to get evidence “into the record” with the persuasiveness of the evidence.  While most arbitrators will allow hearsay and the like because the arbitration rules allow it, the evidence is always taken subject to later reflection and study of the persuasive effect of the evidence.  Rank, unreliable hearsay is rarely persuasive and likely won’t advance your cause. Indeed, that a party may be willing to stake its case, at least in part, on such evidence may be detrimental to the integrity of the case as a whole.

Expert reports as direct testimony.  One technique that has gained some sponsorship over the years is the use of the expert’s report as the direct testimony of the expert. This has some advantages.  There is, for example, no question whether the expert’s testimony is straying from the opinions stated in the report because the report is the testimony.  Presumably it also saves time to use the report as testimony, because the arbitrators will have read the report in advance.

While originally enthusiastic about this approach, I am no longer a fan of it.  Part of what we are doing with testimony – and why we don’t just decide everything on written submissions – is gauging the expertise and trustworthiness of the expert.  Only observing testimony allows one to do that.  Perhaps most importantly, having the expert summarize what in the opinion is most important helps the focus the inquiry and pinpoints the most important aspects of the opinion and ultimately the issues in dispute.  Testimony that is given with the understanding that the arbitrators will have the report, but also with emphasis given to the most important points, is the best way to proceed, in my judgment.

Written witness statements.  I have a similar view on  presenting direct testimony of lay witnesses in written witness statements that are then subject to cross examination.  One simply cannot gauge the knowledge or veracity of a witness without listening to the witness’s testimony.  Indeed, we all know the statements are typically written by the lawyers, so it is as though we are simply asked to reread the facts section of the brief again.  In fact, it strikes me as a little unfair to meet the witnesses only on paper when they are telling their side of things, and first meeting them as speaking human beings only on cross examination.  Cross examination tends not to bring out the best in most people.

Next upPost hearing briefing and closing arguments.

Arbitrating the Patent Case Part XVII: Presenting Documents at the Hearing

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We have previously had a look at many aspects of arbitrating patent cases, beginning with the type of cases likely to be arbitrated, arbitration clauses, and the arbitration process up to the hearing.  We then began looking at the hearing itself, beginning with sequestration issues that can arise, opening statements, and case organization.  We will now continue on to presenting documents at the hearing.  This may seem a little mundane, but it is not.  It can have a significant effect on the efficiency and effectiveness of the hearing.

Patent arbitration tends to be document heavy, and the current technology available to present documents leads to many possibilities.  Here are a few thoughts on that from one arbitrator’s point of view.  Not all arbitrators will necessarily agree with me on all this, but this reflects what I have found over the years.

Presenting written documents

With the advent of Trial Director and other systems to present documents electronically, it can be tempting to default to that system for everything.  I’m not sure it is worth the expense in many cases.  I am sure that, if done improperly, use of these systems can be a detriment rather than a benefit.

But first let’s consider the benefits of trial presentation systems. These systems allow you to focus the witnesses’ and arbitrator’s attention to specific documents and passages in the way you choose.  You can project the page of the document, blow up or highlight a particular passage of interest, and otherwise direct everyone’s attention to the particular part of the document you are working on.  If done correctly, there is no need to fumble around through a book of exhibits and then call out page numbers and paragraphs so everyone can get to the right place.  Nor is the witness or arbitrator as likely to get distracted by other document content you aren’t dealing with at the time.  You may be able to avoid dragging pounds of paper copies around the country if everything is on your computer.

On the other hand, this way of presenting documents doesn’t take into consideration the way many people process and use information from documents in an arbitration.  I, and most arbitrators I have worked with, tend to take notes on exhibits, and underline or highlight key parts of the documents. This is very useful when it comes to analyzing the case and writing an award.  No one I know can memorize all the pertinent language in a document for later recall.  Thus, for matters where the information in the document is critical, you will often see arbitrators reaching for their copy of the document if it is available or asking for a copy if it is not. Be aware that a transitory projection doesn’t usually get the job done.  You need a way to put important evidence you want the arbitrator to rely on into the arbitrator’s hands.

Use of a document projection system can sometimes be annoying.  Have you ever been at a hearing where a vendor was hired to do the document retrieval and the presentation went something like this?

Lawyer:  [To vendor running system].  Put up bates number 14578. [Pause and wait for projection].   Oh, wait sorry, go to 14587.

Arbitrator:  Can I have the Exhibit number please?

Lawyer:  Just a minute.  [Pause.]  I’ll have to get that to you at the break.  OK, please blow up paragraph 2 – or I mean 3.  [Long pause.]  Can you highlight the second sentence?  Okay, blow it up, please.  Oh, before we do that, can we go to bates number 14586 for a little context?  [Pause]. Now, Ms. Witness, see that date?  Ok.  Now back to 14587.  [Pause.] I’ve blown up paragraph 2 . . . See where it says . . .

Witness:  Excuse me. It is hard for me to get the context of this without reviewing the whole document. May I see it instead of just the parts you are projecting?

You get the idea.  The whole process of explaining how to project the right part of the document can get lengthy and tedious.  And it may well appear unfair to the witness to pick out a sentence or two from a document he or she hasn’t seen in three years and start asking about it.

The answer, of course, is to have things better organized.  But in some cases, it is just easier and less time consuming to have a notebook with the exhibit tabbed and refer to it.  This goes more like:

Lawyer:  Let me direct you to Exhibit 27.  You will find it tabbed in the notebook you have in front of you.  Is this an email you sent to Joe Dokes on March 12, 2013?

 

Witness:  It appears so.

 

Lawyer:  Please turn to page two, the second paragraph.  Here you say, “I agree that we should be paying license fees on this product . . .” [Etc.]

If the arbitrator is going to turn to the tabbed exhibit to highlight it or make notes on the document anyway, it might be better to just get everyone to that document.

You may want to do a combination of the two, projecting the document to lead the witness through it, but giving the arbitrator a chance to pull it up in the exhibit book.  But if you want to forego some expense, use tabbed exhibits in three-ringed notebooks − one for you, one for the witness and one for the arbitrator − and skip the presentation system for written documents.  Or, if the technology is too challenging for you, but there is an advantage to having a particular document projected, just use a document camera to project it.

You can be sure of this: You won’t lose your arbitration because you didn’t project exhibits.   But tabbed exhibits are almost always necessary and generally are effective enough in the context of your patent arbitration.

Two more thoughts on notebooks.  First, giant notebooks with 5 inch spines are heavy and awkward, particularly if there is more than one of them everyone has to retrieve and you are moving between them.  Use more, smaller notebooks, clearly labeled so it is easy to find the one that has the right exhibit in it.

Second, it may seem like a good idea to simply have a book for each witness with the exhibits you will use for that witness.  This works well during testimony.  But it can get confusing in a long arbitration.  The arbitrator ends up with a jumble of notebooks, many with the same exhibits, so it is difficult to locate an exhibit and may be nearly impossible to locate the copy with the arbitrator’s notes.  Exhibit books with exhibits tabbed in order are usually best.  Make a list of exhibits organized by date, too, to allow easier retrieval and review.

Visual information

For drawings, photos, or other highly visual documents critical to patent cases, projection will often be the way to go, so everyone can follow along.  Thus, if you are trying to show where each element of a claim is in an accused product, or that an element is missing, a large visual you or the witness can point to is a must.  But remember to have a smaller version available in permanent form so that arbitrator can easily locate and study it as part of the decision or award writing process.

Sometimes you are better off with a large chart or two so you can easily write on it, draw arrows, or the like.  It depends on your case and what you are presenting with a given witness.  But the arbitrator won’t be hauling charts around, so remember to provide a small version of it for later reference.  A smaller version of the drawing and a document camera may be all you  need.

Computer animation

You can spend a small fortune on computer animations and the like, but this is rarely necessary.  Most patent arbitrators can visualize what is necessary from drawings or photos without the expense of animations that may or may not be completely accurate.

Of course, you can simply bring smaller devices to the hearing or take a field trip to observe large devices or systems in operation.

Helpful technology

It has become more and more common for counsel to provide arbitrators with documents electronically, either on a USB drive or by emailing pdfs.  Patent arbitrations tend to involve traveling to the hearing, so this is a good way to allow everyone having a computer or tablet to easily retrieve exhibits at the hearing and for review afterwards.  One typically can’t take notes on the documents (absent some extra software and practice using it), but having them easily accessible anywhere is a real plus.  Talk this over with the arbitrator early on to see whether he or she uses a computer or tablet and in what format to provide the documents.

Unused exhibits

Parties usually provide exhibits in books or electronically that they don’t end up using and that never make it into the record.  You may be worried that the arbitrator will go off on his or her own quest and review unused exhibits and use them to come to conclusions.  The arbitrators I know are very unlikely to do that.  There is always plenty to consider without looking for more outside the record, and it is thought to be unfair to consider documents that are not part of the record.  In fact, many arbitrators tell the parties that if an exhibit is in the record, but hasn’t been discussed with a witness, you shouldn’t expect them to consider it.

But if you are worried about having exhibits available to the arbitrator that aren’t in the record, the arbitrator will certainly let you remove them from the notebooks.  You will have to keep track of what exhibits are in the record and agree with opposing counsel on that.  If you provided pdfs of exhibits, you’ll have to ask the arbitrator to delete the old set and substitute a new set you’ll provide with only the exhibits of record.

Next upPresenting testimony.

Arbitrating the Patent Case Part XVI: Presenting the Evidence

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We have previously had a look at many aspects of arbitrating patent cases, beginning with the type of cases likely to be arbitrated, arbitration clauses, and the arbitration process up to the hearing.  We then began looking at the hearing itself, beginning with sequestration issues that can arise and, finally opening statements.  We have now arrived at the beginning of evidence and how most effectively to begin.

There is no one way to start, of course.  But the standard for admissibility for evidence in an arbitration presents some possibilities for efficiently presenting each party’s case that are worth exploring.  Let me give you a couple of examples I have seen that have worked well.

A first approach, and one that is very common, is having the most involved or responsible representative of a party narrate most of the facts involved, often in chronological order.  This is more likely to be effective in an arbitration than in court because of the standard for admissibility.  The standard set forth in AAA Commercial rules is, for example:

(a) The parties may offer such evidence as is relevant and material to the dispute and shall produce such evidence as the arbitrator may deem necessary to an understanding and determination of the dispute. Conformity to legal rules of evidence shall not be necessary.  .  .

Because the real key to admissibility is relevance and materiality, it is possible for one witness to “tell the story” of a party by both relating personal experience and relying on business documents that help to tell the story. This is particularly useful because many arbitration issues turn on contracts and written documents.  Thus, a knowledgeable witness can introduce the key documents and much of the evidence in the case in a logical order.  This may be more difficult to do in a court where there are strict standards for laying foundation, hearsay problems with documents and related technical evidentiary matters to address. Many of those are obviated in an arbitration where, in the words of AAA Rule 34 “[c]onformity to legal rules of evidence shall not be necessary.”

A note of caution is in order here.  Just because the rules of evidence don’t apply, doesn’t mean that anything goes.  First, again in the words of Rule 34, “[t]he arbitrator shall determine the admissibility, relevance, and materiality of the evidence offered and may exclude evidence deemed by the arbitrator to be cumulative or irrelevant.”  So taking things too far and having a witness introduce a document that he or she knows nothing about and isn’t part of what one would expect to be in a company’s normal business records, may not be seen by the arbitrator as useful or relevant.  Have in mind that it should be clear that the witness, the testimony and documents introduced have enough in common that it makes sense the witness would be offering the testimony and evidence to provide a genuine understanding of the issues.  After all, getting a document or testimony into “the record” only means it is in there.  It doesn’t mean anybody will be persuaded by it or believe it.

Still, you likely can get into evidence documents and evidence that may not have gone in under technical legal rules with your first witness, but that are helpful to understanding the important events in the case in a logical order.   But for contested matters at the heart of the dispute, keep in mind you should be prepared to present evidence from the witness who wrote the document or observed the events described in it to provide first- hand information necessary for the arbitrator to determine the truth of the matter.

Another effective way I have seen of presenting evidence at the outset to outline the case was use of a technical expert.  The key to the case was the expert’s opinion, which was based on most of the evidence in the case, including all the key documents.  Thus, as the first witness, the expert basically gave each of his opinions on liability and backed it up with the key evidence on which he relied.  This was not a patent case, but was a fairly complex dispute over whether a software system met the specifications and representations about its functionality.  But one can imagine a similar approach to whether, for example, license fees are owed for certain products under the terms of a license agreement and underlying patent or the like.

When representing a respondent, a similar approach is available, using an involved and responsible witness or perhaps a technical expert.  While a fair amount of groundwork for the respondent’s position will likely already have been presented on cross examination, a coherent overview of the most important defense points can be made through a single witness.  And, of course, the respondent will have the benefit of knowing what points the claimant has emphasized in their case and be able to outline the key evidence in response to each point.  Again, contested matters will need to be addressed by other witnesses more directly involved, but providing a well-organized overview of the defense through a first witness can be quite effective.

Of course, the above approach won’t necessarily work for every case.  There may not be one witness who was really involved enough with the key facts and circumstances to provide a useful overview.  It may be that one event or issue is so important to the case that you would want to lead with your best witness on the point.  Or it may be that the subject matter of the case best lends itself to a few witnesses that have knowledge in one or two of each of the key matters in the case.

But however you end up doing things, you will want to pay attention to the most effective and efficient way to provide an understanding of the key issues and evidence at the outset.  In the end, the arbitrator will likely be able to piece together the case from evidence you present during the course of the proceeding.  Yet, finding ways to get the key information and issues out at the outset is worth the effort.

Put another way, it is difficult to rule for you if your position is difficult to understand.  So anything you can do to clarify your position at the outset should be considered.

Up next:  Practical considerations regarding evidence.

Arbitrating the Patent Case Part XV: Opening Statements

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Earlier articles in this series explored various aspects of arbitrating patent cases, beginning with the type of cases likely to be arbitrated, arbitration clauses, and the arbitration process up to the hearing.  We then began looking at the hearing itself, beginning with sequestration issues that can arise and suggested an approach to avoid problems with sequestration.

We now arrive at the beginning of the substance of the hearing:  opening statements.  Should you make an opening statement?  If so, of what sort?

Should you open?  

It is not unusual to waive openings at the arbitration hearing.  After all, you are trying to be efficient and make good use of time.   In a patent arbitration, the parties have almost certainly filed detailed pre-hearing briefs.   You may have already done a Markman hearing and gotten a claim construction decision.  So why would you spend the time and energy preparing and presenting an opening?  Why not just get on with the evidence?

Skipping the opening may be appropriate in some arbitrations, but I would suggest that you be very careful in foregoing this chance in a patent arbitration.  Like anyone else, arbitrators appreciate someone who can clarify the dispute and define exactly what issues they are being asked to decide.  An opening gives the advocate a chance to do that.  First impressions count with everyone, and this is time that can be used to make a good one.

Because arbitrators are professional decision makers, trained and skilled in carefully analyzing facts and law and reaching the right decision, first impressions may not be as important.  But why waste an opportunity to make it clear that you have mastered the facts and law and can efficiently outline what you will be proving?

And, of course, there is no better way to prepare for the hearing than figuring out just how you will explain your case in a succinct way.  It forces you to deal with all the key issues and facts in the case.

What kind of opening?   In constructing your opening, you will want to keep in mind your audience and purpose.  In a patent case, your arbitrator will normally be a lawyer very familiar with patent law and patent issues.  This means you can explain the case with a fair amount of sophistication.  You don’t need to explain what a patent is, how it is like a legal description that provides the boundaries of the intellectual property much like the boundaries of real property and all the things you would normally tell a jury or judge new to patent matters.

Instead, think like an arbitrator. What would you want to know about the case that you are being asked to decide?  Thinking that way will likely lead you to (1) explain what exactly needs to be decided, (2) identify the key evidence you will present so that those decisions should be in your client’s favor, and (3) explain why those decision are fair.  Let me elaborate on this a little.

Issues to be decided

Although the briefs will certainly lay them out, how you describe the real issues for decision is critical.  The emphasis that you can give the key issues in person is different than you can do in your brief.  That’s why we have hearings instead of just deciding everything based on written submissions.  When you are done with your opening, the arbitrator or panel should have a very good idea of what issues you are expecting will be decided.  They probably will have them numbered in their notes.

The key evidence

You will also want to emphasize the key evidence that will support a decision in your favor.  All evidence at the hearing tends to come in as if it is all equally important, one question and answer at a time.  But, of course, some evidence is the key to a decision once the preliminaries are established while the rest is just background.  You want to allow the decision maker to easily fit what is being presented at the hearing into the framework you have presented.  Thus, you want arbitrators to be able to say to themselves, “Yes, I remember, this is the evidence that I was told at the beginning would be one of the keys to deciding the case.”

If there is key evidence you know your opponent will raise, you will likely want to begin to deal with it.  If they are going to say your client’s patent is obvious over two prior art references, you’ll want to explain what is missing or that your expert will explain why no one skilled in the art would combine them except with the benefit of hindsight, or whatever your position will be.  You will want to make it clear you have not only identified the evidence that will allow you to win, but have thoughtfully considered the opposing points of view and will deal with them.

A fair result

You don’t want to ignore the justice of the result you are asking for. Arbitrators are not robots applying some sort of legal algorithm to reach a mandated result.  To be sure, the law must be carefully considered and fact-finding must be carefully done.  But arbitrators, like anyone else, want to arrive at a fair result.  To be sure, that result is informed — and often dictated in large part — by the law and careful analysis of facts.  In the end, however, every decision maker is hoping to arrive at a just result.  Give them the information and perspective that will help them do that.

Keep it brief

This is not to suggest that your opening will do all these things in great detail and last for hours.   In most cases, you would like to open in about half an hour or less if you can.  Shorter and memorable is better.

Thus, a framework should be just that: something to give the arbitrators a place to “hang” the evidence you are presenting.  You will not describe in detail each important document and each important piece of evidence.  You don’t have time. But you can emphasize, for example, that Exhibit 27 is the letter sent on May 13, 2013 by respondent’s chief engineer to claimant admits that the respondent’s device does in fact include the element of claim 2 of the patent now under consideration, despite what they say today.  Or whatever it may be.

Generally, infringement disputes get down to one or two elements that likely cut across a number of claims.  Organize your explanation in a way that makes it easy to follow.  If you are defending, you will want to, for example, explain the “dataflow”  (mentioned in a hypothetical in our last article) limitation in independent claims 1, 5 and 13 of the software patent at issue rather than have a listing of claims and an explanation of the various missing elements of each.  Your framework should be efficient.

I can’t tell you here what the fairness and justice attributes of your case will be, but you must have some.  No one brings a case or decides to defend it without some underlying sense that the opponent has done or is asking for is unfair.  It may be as simple as breaking a promise to pay license payments.   Or it may be much more complex, arising out of the parties’ relationship or other matters.  It all will depend on your case.  You don’t need to dwell on fairness, but don’t ignore it.  Decisions on close issues can often turn on simple fairness.

Of course, in a patent matter, fairness is all viewed through the lens of the specific application of patent rights and principles, all of which will be well understood by your decision maker, the arbitrator.

Next up.  The hearing continues.

Arbitrating the Patent Case Part XIV: Sequestration at the hearing

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In past articles, we have been exploring various aspects of arbitrating a patent case.  These included the types of patent cases most likely to be arbitrated, formulation of arbitration clauses, the federal statutes governing arbitration of patent matters, considerations regarding use of experts in arbitration, and exchanges of information as well as witness lists, document lists and briefs.  We then turned to specifics of the hearing schedule including transcripts, the form of award to request, and finally the hearing itself.

One of the issues that may come up at the outset of the hearing is sequestration of witnesses.  I’ll illustrate the issues that can arise with a story.  It’s loosely based on a real dispute or two.

The situation.

You represent a respondent in an arbitration.  At issue is whether your client’s new software product infringes the claimant’s patent.  If it does, your client has to pay rather high royalties under the parties’ license agreement.

The rule

At the outset of the hearing you opponent suggests that the witnesses be sequestered.  You are subject to AAA rules.  You read AAA Commercial Rule 25 to assure yourself that your client will be able to attend.  It says:

The arbitrator and the AAA shall maintain the privacy of the hearings unless the law provides to the contrary. Any person having a direct interest in the arbitration is entitled to attend hearings. The arbitrator shall otherwise have the power to require the exclusion of any witness, other than a party or other essential person, during the testimony of any other witness. It shall be discretionary with the arbitrator to determine the propriety of the attendance of any other person.

Your client, the owner of the respondent, is a party.  So he can attend.  And you conclude it is helpful not to have your opponent’s witnesses listen to each other.  You think they may well contradict one another without first hearing the “party line.”  Thus, you agree to sequestration.  Now you will have to make your witnesses except your client wait in the lobby, but that isn’t too difficult.

The issue

One of the issues at the hearing is whether your client’s new software uses “dataflow” computing.  The claimant’s patent requires use of dataflow computing as an element of every claim.  Generally, dataflow computing is an alternative to standard computing where execution begins as soon as the data needed for computation become available rather than according to specific instructions. This is said to promote faster, parallel computing.   If your client’s software doesn’t use dataflow computing, it doesn’t infringe and no royalties are due.

During the hearing, your opponent introduces an ad for the new software that describes the “data flow” of you client’s program.  It shows the data happily flowing between typical business processes.  Claimant’s owner testifies the ad is proof positive your client’s software infringes.  “It says ‘data flow’ right here.  That’s part of how we knew their refusal to pay royalties on their new software was a breach of our patent license,” he testifies.

You are fairly sure that the ad uses those terms in a general descriptive sense, since data flows one way or another through all software. You doubt this is really an admission your client’s software uses dataflow computing in the technical sense used in the patent.  You client is more a business guy than a software designer.  He suggests that, to be sure “data flow” is used in the ad in the general and not the technical sense, you show the ad to the lead programmer, who will be testifying later.

During a break, while preparing the programmer to testify, you show her the document and ask her about the “data flow” reference.  She says she is familiar with the ad and that it surely uses the term in the general sense.  She says she designed the new software not to use dataflow computing.  She wishes the advertising folks would have stayed away from that term in the ad, but it was only loosely used. Anybody who knows about software, she says, would know the term was not used technically.

Later, you call the programmer testify.  She explains to the arbitrator that the ad uses “data flow” in the general and not infringing sense.  During cross, your opponent asks the programmer when she last saw the ad  She says she saw it earlier that day, when you showed it to her and asked about it.

Opposing counsel then exclaims, “Mr. Arbitrator, there has been a serious breach of the sequestration order in this arbitration.  It is clear that counsel for respondent flagrantly violated the order by showing this document to the witness and clearly was relaying the testimony of another witness to this witness in violation of the sequestration order.  As a sanction, you should conclude that it is now established that the term ‘data flow’ is actually used in the technical sense, establishing infringement.  Only in this way can you keep respondent from profiting by this misconduct!”

You are a little taken aback.  You quickly reread AAA rule 25 to make sure you haven’t missed anything.  You haven’t.  It says “The arbitrator shall . . . have the power to require the exclusion of any witness . . . during the testimony of any other witness.”  You point to the arbitrator that the rule talks only about excluding attendance during testimony.   It says nothing about not being able to prepare witnesses or clarify the meaning of documents during a break.

Your opponent, ready for all that, begins to cite federal cases where courts have forbidden witnesses to talk to each other to get their stories straight during trial.  That is true even though the Federal Rule of Evidence equivalent, Rule 615, only talks about excluding witnesses from the courtroom.  “After all,” he says,” the point of all this is to keep witnesses from getting together to ‘tailor their testimony to that of prior witnesses and to aid in the detection of dishonesty,’ to quote the case of United States v. Vallie, 284 F.3d 917, 921 (8th Cir. 2002).  Putting a lawyer in the middle of it to help them fabricate their story shouldn’t be allowed.”

You deny the idea that anybody fabricated anything and argue this is all just an attempt to invade privilege and interfere with normal witness preparation.

The law in some jurisdictions

Later, you do some research to find that, even having a police officer take notes during a hearing of government witnesses’ testimony and relaying that information to other government witnesses during the hearing did not violate a sequestration order under Federal Rule 615.   See United States v. Smith, 578 F.2d 1227, 1235 (8th Cir. 1978).

But this has been a fairly uncomfortable situation and you opponent has done his best to cast you as something less than completely forthcoming in your approach.  Besides, you handle arbitrations all over the country, and who knows what a criminal court somewhere has said about sequestration that might be used against you?

Of course, arbitrators normally won’t start making decisions based on court decisions, but will simply stick with the AAA rule.  In fact, as a technical matter, the arbitrator’s power under Rule 25 doesn’t extend beyond excluding witnesses from the hearing while others are testifying in any event.  But why not avoid all this?

The solution

Once you are aware of the issue it is fairly simple to anticipate.  When it comes up, just make it clear your understanding is that the rule applies only to presence at the hearing and not ability to prepare witnesses.  You can say you’ve read about problems that can arise in this regard and want to make sure everyone understands.  Everyone is bound to agree.  If not, you will need to do some education of the arbitrator on this esoteric issue.

Next up:  Opening statements.

Arbitrating the Patent Case Part XIII: The hearing

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We have addressed the types of patent cases most likely to be arbitrated, formulation of arbitration clauses,  the federal statutes governing arbitration of patent matter, considerations regarding use of experts in arbitration, and the final pre-hearing schedule regarding pre-hearing exchanges of information as well as witness lists, document lists and briefs.  We then turned to specifics of the hearing schedule including transcripts, and the form of award to request.  We have now arrived at the point in the process when we begin to address the beginning of the hearing itself.

Final pre-hearing.  In many arbitrations, it will be well worth your while to ask for a final pre-hearing conference to iron out the details of the hearing and the arbitrator’s or panel’s approach.  Some arbitrators routinely set such a session, but many don’t.  Most will be happy to hold them if you request them to.

Another approach I have taken lately is to provide the parties with written guidance as to what to expect at the hearing by way of proceedings, approach to evidence and the like.  Below is a generic version of a communication I have used in past arbitrations.  It was developed with input from a couple of panels of experienced arbitrators.  Of course, your arbitrator or panel may look at things differently, so it is worth finding out.  But this will provide you with a checklist of issues to consider.  Here it is:

_________________

Arbitration Guidelines

Dear Counsel:

I am writing to provide some guidance for the upcoming hearing.  Please bear the following in mind:

We will start the first day at 9 am. We will finish by 5 pm. In subsequent days, if it appears we will need to work longer hours to finish on time, we will.

  • We are set to finish on Friday, May 25th. But we have all set aside Saturday as a “spillover day” if necessary to finish. I will check in with you daily as to our progress toward completing the hearing.
  • Each party will be allowed to make a brief opening and closing if they would like. Please plan not to exceed twenty minutes or so for each side.   It isn’t necessary that you do an opening, particularly if the pre-hearing briefs lay the issues out well.
  • All testimony will be under oath. Witnesses will be asked to “swear or affirm” the testimony they are about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If witnesses would rather not take an oath, they can opt to have their testimony taken “under penalty of perjury.” Please let me know if any of your witnesses would rather have the testimony “taken under penalty” rather than swearing an oath.
  • We will proceed by question and answer. I normally will allow some brief redirect to clarify matters from cross. Re-cross is appropriate only if necessary to refine or explain critical points. There is no particular advantage in having the last word. I take notes.
  • The rules of evidence do not apply. The standard of what is allowed into evidence is set forth in Rule 34 of the Commercial Rules of the American Arbitration Association:

(a) The parties may offer such evidence as is relevant and material to the dispute and shall produce such evidence as the arbitrator may deem necessary to an understanding and determination of the dispute. Conformity to legal rules of evidence shall not be necessary. All evidence shall be taken in the presence of all of the arbitrators and all of the parties, except where any of the parties is absent, in default or has waived the right to be present.

(b) The arbitrator shall determine the admissibility, relevance, and materiality of the evidence offered and may exclude evidence deemed by the arbitrator to be cumulative or irrelevant.

(c) The arbitrator shall take into account applicable principles of legal privilege, such as those involving the confidentiality of communications between a lawyer and client.

  • While not controlling, the rules of evidence often provide some guidance as to admissibility and, importantly, to persuasiveness of certain evidence. For example, rank hearsay subject to no exceptions is not likely to be very valuable in sorting out the controversy. A first-hand account is likely to be more useful. If you want to object based on an evidentiary ground to remind the arbitrator of the weakness of the evidence, you may do so.   But such objections cannot be speaking objections. Stick with basic objections, e.g. lack of foundation, hearsay, irrelevant, etc. Admissibility will still be judged under the arbitration standard for admissibility set forth in Rule 34. I may let you know if a path of inquiry is not helpful and ask you to move on.
  • Leading questions, except as to preliminary matters and on cross, are disfavored. Arbitrators would like to know what the witness knows himself or herself and not what the lawyer would like the witness to agree to.
  • If an exhibit is referred to during an examination without objection, it is considered to be ‘in the record.” If you object to use of an exhibit, please state your objection when the exhibit is first mentioned. This keeps things moving without the “offer/receipt” ritual. Having an exhibit admitted means only that it is part of the record. It will only be given the weight, if any, deemed appropriate even if it is admitted. Please keep track of which exhibits have and have not been used. If the parties want to do so, exhibits not used can be taken out of the exhibit books at the close of proceedings. The lawyers will need to take care of that.
  • You should not assume I will look at any exhibit, even if admitted into evidence, if it has not been used in the examination of a witness or counsel has not expressly stated why I should consider it.
  • Your exhibits should be in three-ring binders, tabbed with the exhibit number. Please don’t use notebooks for your exhibits of over 3” or so. If you have a large number of exhibits, it is better to have more notebooks of a manageable size than large, unwieldy notebooks. Counsel should work to eliminate duplicates of exhibits. It wastes time if the same exhibit has two different numbers depending on which side is referring to it. If the exhibits are voluminous, it would be most helpful for you to email them to me in .pdf form so I can retrieve them on my iPad, too.
  • Please provide me with copies of any particularly important cases or legal authorities you rely on, preferably in alphabetical order by the last name of the first-named party in the caption. I am fine if you just email them to me in .pdf form.
  • One of the benefits of arbitration is that it is fairly informal. This leads to a spirit of cooperation that will keep things moving and keep things inexpensive. Also, because we are in a little more informal setting than a courtroom, it is a good idea to “turn down the volume” a little bit in the presentations. You may be reminded of that occasionally. Please don’t take offense. It often takes lawyers who are used to appearing in court some time to get used to the more informal setting.
  • On the other hand, we won’t be taking depositions either; you are presenting evidence critical to determining the outcome. There is sometimes a tendency because of the informality to go more into probing deposition mode than evidence presentation. You will do well to stick with presentation mode.
  • Another aspect to the informality of the proceedings is there is a tendency to want to chat between breaks. We have to be careful, though. I will not speak with counsel or witnesses about the merits of the case outside the hearing and tend to avoid talking to witnesses and lawyers at all (except for small talk about the weather) when we aren’t all together. Arbitrators would like to be social, but it’s more important that we be impartial, so please don’t take offense if I avoid much conversation. Please advise your witnesses that I’m not being unfriendly, but just trying to be impartial.
  • I may ask questions of the witnesses. This is normal. Some witnesses, unfortunately, have a tendency to try to determine what the arbitrator is getting at and answer so as to “agree” with the arbitrator. Please tell witnesses to answer my questions like any other questions. I don’t want agreement; I just want information. If you think I’ve gotten a wrong impression based on questions asked, you can ask to pose a few more clarifying questions to the witness.
  • Sometimes people don’t know what to call arbitrators. Please call me “Mr. Allgeyer” or “Mr. Arbitrator.”  There is no need to call an arbitrator “your honor.” Don’t worry too much if you don’t get it right all the time. I’ll use Mr. or Ms. Lawyers’ last names during the proceedings, unless it fits to become more informal.
  • It is fine to have beverages during the hearing.
  • We will generally take a break every 1 ½ hours or so. If you or a witness need a break, let me know. There will be no breaks while a line of questioning is pending.
  • We likely will discuss how to handle closing arguments and post-arbitration briefing, if any, during the course of the proceedings.
  • Please refer to AAA Commercial Rule 28 regarding use of stenographer. If either party uses real-time reporting, please arrange to provide that capability to me as well.

I hope these guidelines will help answer some basic questions to make our hearing as comfortable and productive as it can be.   Please feel free to seek any clarification or address any other questions you may have during any final pre-hearing conference or when we are together at the hearing.

Arbitrating the Patent Case Part XII: The hearing schedule

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In earlier articles in this series, we addressed the types of patent cases most likely to be arbitrated, formulation of arbitration clauses,  the federal statutes governing arbitration of patent matters, considerations regarding use of experts in arbitration, and the final pre-hearing schedule regarding pre-hearing exchanges of information as well as witness lists, document lists and briefs.  We now turn to the hearing schedule.

Planning for the hearing.  Counsel will be asked for their estimate of how long the hearing will take.  Here are a few guidelines for that.  Things tend go two to three times as fast in arbitration as in most courtrooms.  Breaks tend to be fewer and shorter, and there is generally much less need for preliminaries.  The arbitrator is already quite focused on your case and, having read your briefs and dealt with other aspects of the case, is likely to be familiar with the background.  Generally, the exhibits will go in faster and there is no need for sidebars and complicated evidentiary arguments, although at least some issues in that regard are bound to arise.  There may or may not need to be closings.  But when estimating your time for the case, remember that your opponent is allowed to cross-examine your witnesses and present witnesses.

It often makes sense to build in a “spillover day” into the schedule, so that everyone has their schedule clear if it some extra time is needed to complete the hearing.  Trying to resynchronize schedules of counsel, witnesses and an arbitrator or panel to finish testimony of  a witness or two can delay the conclusion of the arbitration by months.

Transcripts.  You will probably be asked whether or not you want the proceedings transcribed.  On the positive side, having a transcript provides a record that can be used in a complicated case for the arbitrator to study.  If the case requires post-hearing briefing, access to a written record can make those filings more meaningful.  And if you hope to attack the award on appeal a transcript is almost mandatory to give a reviewing court some idea of what occurred.

On the other hand, transcripts are expensive and taking time for their preparation can delay the proceedings.  The standard of review is so high for overturning an arbitration award that a transcript likely won’t assist you in any event.  In fact, you may not want to encourage judicial review of the award by having a transcript.

Most arbitrators I know like to have a transcript, particularly for a longer hearing with complicated facts.  It is likely more accurate than notes taken over many days.  On the other hand, most commercial cases involve documents which contain much of the evidence, so a transcript may not be as useful enough to justify the cost.

You may not need to make the decision regarding the transcript at the first pre-hearing conference.  For example, AAA Commercial Rule 28 requires that you notify the other party three calendar days in advance of the hearing that you will have a court reporter and has provisions for the use and payment of the transcript.  You will likely be in a better position to decide whether or not you want a transcript as you are closer to the hearing.  Just don’t forget to address the issue at the appropriate point if you don’t make a decision at the first pre-hearing conference.

Standard or reasoned award?  You probably will be asked whether you prefer a standard or reasoned award.  A standard award basically says, ” I find for party X in the amount of $X.”  No reasons are given. A reasoned award provides the decision and also the reasons for the decision.  Findings of fact and conclusions of law can also be requested, though I have never seen a party want that much detail.  Most parties prefer a reasoned award.  They like to see why the arbitrator decided what he or she decided.  It also can provide a basis for judicial review, which can be a positive or negative depending on how you did at the arbitration.

Under AAA Commercial Rules, you are not entitled to a reasoned award unless the arbitration clause requires it.  Most arbitrators will, however, provide such an award if both parties ask for it. But not all.

There are possible negatives to a reasoned award.  The first is you have to pay the arbitrator or panel to write it.  The second is it can encourage a party to seek judicial review.  Without it, there is little to review.

You will do well to think through the “details” of the matters addressed above so that the procedures make sense for the specifics of your case.  Knowing what makes sense and being able to explain why will help the arbitrator put procedures in place that will help keep the arbitration efficient and effective.

Next up.  In the next article we begin to address the hearing itself.

Arbitrating the Patent Case Part XI: the Prehearing Schedule

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In this series or articles, we first focused on the patent cases most likely to be arbitrated, formulation of arbitration clauses, and some matters to be addressed during the prehearing conference.  We then took a slight diversion to examine federal statutes governing arbitration of patent matters.  After looking at considerations regarding use of experts in arbitration, we are now ready to consider how all these pretrial matters fit into the final schedule.

As earlier noted, arbitrators factor in the amount of discovery and other prehearing matters that must be accomplished before finalizing the schedule.  They then tend to set the final hearing date and work back from there on prehearing deadlines.

Planning for pre-hearing procedures.  This can become complex in a patent arbitration, but if well planned, can provide some real benefits.  Let’s assume, for example that the parties are convinced – and convince the arbitrator – that a separate Markman hearing to construe the patent claims at issue will likely resolve the key issues in the case.  Time will need to be built into the schedule to allow the parties to exchange the information necessary to inform the Markman presentations.  And here is where the flexibility of arbitration can potentially save time and money.  If, in fact, if the claim construction has some possibility of resolving much of the case, it may well be the best course of action to assure discovery is tailored only to those facts that bear on claim construction and discovery of everything else, including sales and related information, be done later.  It may not need to be done at all.  The Commercial Arbitration Rules of the AAA, in fact, encourage consideration of “whether there are any threshold or dispositive issues that can efficiently be decided without considering the entire case,” including “bifurcation of the proceeding.”  Rule 21 and Checklist P-2.

But be careful.  One of the problems with patent litigation in court is the mandatory phases of the case – infringement contentions, invalidity contentions, claim construction contentions, claim construction statements, claim construction hearing, etc. –  under local patent rules, all of which can add to delay and expense.  As earlier noted, some cases need to proceed with attention to all these matters, but many do not.  As earlier noted, the attractive thing about arbitrating patent disputes is fitting the process to the problem and avoiding unnecessary activities.  Thus, if there is only a minimal chance that separate Markman hearings – or any other separate proceeding, including a dispositive motion – will actually save time and money, it isn’t a good idea.

That said, I think arbitrators should always be on the lookout, with the parties’ help, for procedures that will help focus the arbitration on threshold issues and otherwise save time and money.  But one also has to remember that, from an advocate’s point of view, it is attractive to focus first on the strengths of their case or the opposing side’s weaknesses, which may or may not actually save time and may just prolong the arbitration.  If a party sincerely thinks that focusing on an issue can genuinely structure the case in a way that could avoid some expense and that is fair to both sides, it should be prepared to explain why.  Better yet, it may be able to convince the opposing party it will save everyone time and money to have key issues determined first.

Information exchange.  Of course, the schedule also has to account for discovery, known in the language of AAA rules as “exchange and production of information.”  It is worth remembering that the arbitrator is charged with managing “any necessary exchange of information among the parties with a view to achieving an efficient and economical resolution of the dispute, while at the same time promoting equality of treatment and safeguarding each party’s opportunity to fairly present its claims and defenses.”  AAA Commercial Rule 22.

You will need to build in some time for the exchange and also for resolving any disagreements.  Discovery disagreements normally should not need to be the subject of court-style motions.  Instead, a brief letter from each side explaining the need for the information or problems with providing it should suffice. The arbitrator can then ask any questions during a phone conference and quickly get the parties on track with a prompt ruling.  In routine disputes a conference call with counsel and the arbitrator may be all that is necessary.

To avoid expensive disputes over electronic discovery, guidelines should be set in advance to limit where the parties must search for electronic documents and the format in which they are to be produced.  Here the arbitrator is charged with “balancing the need for production of electronically stored documents relevant and material to the outcome of disputed issues against the cost of locating and producing them.”  Rule 22.  Give some thought to this in advance to help the arbitrator help you save costs and avoid frustration.  An earlier article in this series provided some further guidance on that issue.

I recall the time counsel for each side produced electronic documents in the format they preferred, which was different than the other side preferred.   After doing so, each asked me to order the other to use the format they preferred.  Each was sincere in their belief and could give good reasons why their preferred format made sense.  But the result was a complication that cost money.  Discussing the issue before producing documents would have saved a motion, expense, and aggravation.

Subpoenas.  Remember, as noted in an earlier article, if you plan to subpoena witnesses or documents you will need to start analyzing how to do that and allow for possible delays in that process.  If you foresee difficulties, it is best to address them at the prehearing scheduling conference.

Inspections.  It may be that your case involves a process or device that requires a visit by the arbitrator to allow you to explain it and allow the arbitrator to understand it.  It may be that drawings, photos and videos will be sufficient, but often there is no substitute for observing the real thing.  If that is true in your case, you will want to account for that at the scheduling session and address the logistics as is necessary.  If travel is involved, this can be expensive, so think through this carefully.  Field trips are fun, but like anything else in arbitration, you must balance the cost and benefit.

Expert reports.  If the case will involve experts, which as noted in the last article in this series it often will, time needs to be built in for exchange of reports and possible rebuttal reports.  Parties may want to take depositions of experts, but be cautious about that.  If the reports include sufficient information, expert depositions may be unnecessary.  This is particularly likely to be true if the expert reports serve as the direct testimony of the expert.  Foregoing expert depositions in favor of good expert reports can present a real cost savings and not really any disadvantage in being prepared to cross examine the opposing expert.

Prehearing filings.  Once you have accounted for the time necessary to get ready for the arbitration, you will need to set deadlines for providing exhibit lists, witness lists, and prehearing briefing.  You will have to work out whether these will be phased in, with the claimant going first with response by the respondent, or whether the exchange will be simultaneous.  You will also want to think about providing an “escape valve” if one party is genuinely surprised by a document or witness and believes it needs to call another witness or present another document to fully air the issue.  This could be in the form of an additional disclosure of witnesses or documents if necessary.  The point, from the arbitrator’s point of view, is to avoid surprises and provide everyone a fair chance to present a case or defense.

Planning for the hearing.  Counsel will be asked for their estimate of how long the hearing will take.  Here are a few guidelines for that.  Things tend to go twice as fast in arbitration as in most courtrooms.  Breaks tend to be fewer and shorter, and there is generally much less need for preliminaries.  The arbitrator is already quite focused on your case and, having read your briefs and dealt with other aspects of the case, is likely to be familiar with the background.  Generally, the exhibits will go in faster and there is no need for sidebars and complicated evidentiary arguments, although at least some issues in that regard are bound to arise.  There may or may not need to be closings.  But when estimating your time for the case, factor in time for your opponent to cross-examine your witnesses and present witnesses.

It often makes sense to build in a “spillover day” into the schedule, so that everyone has their schedule clear if it becomes some extra time is needed to complete the hearing.  Trying to resynchronize schedules of counsel, witnesses and an arbitrator or panel to finish testimony of a witness or two can delay the conclusion of the arbitration by months.

With the above in mind, as well as the particulars of your case, you should be equipped to do your part to help realize arbitration’s promise of providing a fair opportunity to be heard while minimizing time and expense.

Next up.  The hearing schedule.

 

Arbitrating the Patent Case Part X: Experts

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In earlier articles in this series we focused on the patent cases most likely to be arbitrated, formulation of arbitration clauses, and the prehearing conference.  We then took a slight diversion to examine federal statutes governing arbitration of patent matters.

Because the prehearing conference shapes the arbitration process, to participate intelligently you will need to think through your case in terms of needed discovery, other prehearing matters such as claims construction and invalidity contentions, and whether to plan for summary judgment in your arbitration.  All these things will affect the case schedule.

We now will focus on experts in patent arbitration, another matter you will address at the prehearing conference.

There typically are two likely candidates for experts in a patent arbitration: a technical expert and a damages expert.  It is possible that the case could involve technical issues of patent prosecution procedure or the like, in which case a patent prosecution expert may be considered, but in most cases that is unlikely.

Technical experts.  I would suggest that different considerations often come into play in an arbitration than in a jury trial when it comes to technical experts.  In many cases, the real experts in the technology are the inventor or engineers with one of the involved companies.  In jury cases, you may prefer to use a seasoned technical expert who is accomplished at testifying – perhaps a college professor who has the appearance of impartiality and impressive credentials.  This may not be as important in an arbitration where your arbitrator is likely to be an experienced patent lawyer or patent litigator who is most interested in the substance of the testimony and the familiarity of the expert with the particulars of the involved art.

Of course, the most important thing remains that the expert is knowledgeable in the art and has enough understanding of patent principles so that his or her testimony stands up on the merits.  Thus, you may find the most knowledgeable expert is the inventor or another engineer employed by your client. There is still the appearance of bias or interest to worry about, but the testimony is most likely to be judged based more on its substance in an arbitration.  This is good news if you are trying to avoid the expense of experts in an arbitration that is important, but doesn’t have millions of dollars at stake.

But remember, in the end, arbitrators tend to be more technically savvy and will credit the expert who is truthful, knowledgeable and can communicate his or her position well.  If your in-house experts do not fill that bill, you will need to look elsewhere.

Damages experts.  Damages experts are on a little different footing.  It may well be possible to use your client’s CFO or other accounting professional in a relatively straightforward case where the only issue is which sales are subject to the royalty.  But in a case that may involve issues of lost profits or the like, an accountant or economist with significant experience in determining damages can be important.  Questions of lost profits on lost sales, incremental damages and the like require application of legal and accounting principals that accountants not versed in patent damage law may not have mastered.  Your arbitrator will likely know quite a bit about all those issues, so your expert will want to be conversant with them, too.  Thus, you will want to consider the background and experience of any accountant you may choose.  It may well be that you can save expense and time by using a client’s employee, but you will want to approach that choice carefully.

Expert reports.  I can’t imagine a case where you would not want a fairly detailed expert report before the hearing.  You should know, however, that you will need to address at the prehearing conference just what that report should contain.  Typical arbitration scheduling forms provide for expert disclosures, but do not require them to be as detailed as reports under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  You will want to consider asking the arbitrator(s) to require detailed expert reports for your arbitration. First, it will avoid surprises at the hearing and allow you to be prepared to meet the report. Second, if detailed enough, you will likely be able to forego a deposition of the expert and simply rely on the report itself.

You can use Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2)(B) as a checklist for the detail the report should have.  You may not need everything in the rule, but you will probably not need any more.  AAA commercial procedures caution us, appropriately, that “care must be taken to avoid importing procedures from court systems, as such procedures may not be appropriate to the conduct of arbitrations as an alternative form of dispute resolution that is designed to be simpler, less expensive and more expeditious.”  Still, this is one area where we can get some guidance from court procedures that can help make arbitration more efficient, fair, and effective.

In some arbitrations, the expert’s report serves as the expert’s direct testimony. This eliminates questions as to whether the report sufficiently revealed the all areas of expert testimony and saves time. The arbitrator can study the report before the expert is called to testify, so will likely be well-informed of the issues involved rather than coming to them cold on the day the expert testifies.  The issues are then dealt with on cross and short redirect.

Consider whether this procedure would make sense in your next arbitration.  It may be, however, that you would prefer to have the expert build some rapport by having a brief direct examination.  You can be fairly sure the arbitrator will have read the report ahead of time if it is provided to him or her, so the expert need not testify in full detail, but can hit the most important points.

Next up.  The prehearing and hearing schedule.

Arbitrating the Patent Case Part IX: Statutory provisions

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In earlier articles in this series we looked at patent disputes most suitable for arbitration, choice of arbitrator, arbitration clauses to use and avoid, the prehearing conference, discovery, and prehearing matters such as claim construction and summary judgment.  Before we continue on, let’s stop to explore the statutes that specifically provide for arbitration of patent disputes:  35 U.S.C. §§135 and 294.  I’ve received a question on patent statutes and arbitration, so there is no time like the present to address the matter.

Derivation proceedings.  Section 135 is straightforward.  It allows parties to a derivation proceeding to submit their contest to an arbitrator.  A derivation proceeding is used to determined whether the first-to-file inventor was the true inventor or whether he or she derived the invention from another.

If the parties determine to arbitrate the matter instead of submit it to the Patent Office, they are to give the Director of the Patent Office notice of the arbitration award – which is the arbitration term for a decision or order. The award is then binding on the parties.  The arbitration award is not enforceable until notice is given to the Director.  The award is noted as part of the patent’s prosecution record.  The Director may still determine the patentability of the invention claimed in the patent.

This makes sense. The arbitration will bind the parties.  But the patentability of the invention goes to the public interest in having only valid patents in existence.  That is not something the parties should be able determine for others in a private arbitration.  It remains the Director’s responsibility.

Contracts involving patent rights.  Section 294 allows arbitration of any contractual dispute relating to patent validity or infringement. This would most typically relate to patent license agreements, although it is not limited to that.  The parties can provide for arbitration either in the contract itself or later agree to it in writing. Section 294(a) says such a provision is “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, except for any grounds that exist at law or in equity for revocation of a contract.”   Those grounds are very narrow.

According to House Report 97-542 (1982), this provision was enacted, in part, in response to cases such as Beckman Instruments, Inc. v. Technical Developments Corp., 433 F.2d 55 (7th Cir. 1965).  The Beckman court found that patent issues were “inappropriate for arbitration proceedings and should be decided by a court of law, given the great public interest in challenging invalid patents.”  Congress decided allowing arbitration was in the public interest to save time, money and burden on the courts.

The arbitration is governed by the Federal Arbitration Act.  The arbitrator must consider defenses under 35 U.S.C. § 282.  These include  (1) non-infringement, (2) invalidity, (2) unenforceability,  (3) failure to comply with 35 U.S.C. §112 – including, for example, failure to meet the written description, definiteness, enablement, and other requirements of section 112, and (4) failure to comply with any requirement of 35 U.S.C. § 251, which among other things prohibits broadening the scope of re-issued patents.

Significantly, section 294(c) provides that the arbitration award binds the parties, but no one else.  This may have some benefit for the patent holder, but that is not clear.  Consider a case where the licensee successfully defends by proving the licensed patent is invalid   Recall that in  Lear v. Atkins, 295 U.S. 653 (1969), the Supreme Court held that, in light of “the strong federal policy favoring the full and free use of ideas in the public domain,” licensees are not required not to pay patent royalties if they establish the licensed patent is invalid.

But does an invalidity finding bind the patent holder when it later sues someone else on the patent or seeks royalty payments from a different licensee of the patent?  The issue is unclear.  In fact, section 294(c) says the arbitration binds parties, and the patent holder is a party.  So one might think that a later accused infringer could make use of the arbitration decision to invalidate the patent.  After all, in Blonder-Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Illinois Foundation, 402 U.S. 313, (1971), the Supreme Court held that, where a patent has been declared invalid in a proceeding in which the patent holder “ has had a full and fair chance to litigate the validity of his patent,” the patent holder is collaterally estopped from re-litigating the patent’s validity.

But one might suppose there must be some reason Congress made it clear that the arbitration decision only binds parties to the arbitration. An arbitrator’s finding the patent is valid wouldn’t bind a third part in later proceedings anyway, so why does the statute specifically say third parties aren’t bound?  Maybe the idea was just to make it clear that the drafters understood that.

Or perhaps the idea was to meet the concern that validity issues implicate the public interest so much, as recognized by Lear and later cases, that an arbitration is not the way to determine them except as between the parties who agreed to arbitrate.  Just as the issue of validity was specifically carved out from derivation arbitrations under section 135, noted above, perhaps Congress meant to carve it out so that only within the arbitration itself would the validity decision be of any effect.

But that isn’t what the literal language of the statute says. After all, if a patent holder is satisfied to submit the issue of validity of a patent to arbitration and loses, the only interest at stake is the holder’s interest in having a patent monopoly.  The public’s interest in eliminating invalid patents is not disserved.

And if the arbitration decision is to have no effect on the patent’s validity in other proceedings, why does section 294(d) of the statute require that one of the parties inform the Director of the arbitration award on pain of the award otherwise being unenforceable?  In fact, the award is also entered publicly in the patent’s prosecution record.  One might assume that making the award of record is necessary to give the award preclusive effect.  But perhaps the idea is only to give a later licensee notice that a validity challenge has been successful even though it isn’t binding in subsequent proceedings.

Unfortunately, there appear to be no decided cases on the matter, so we are left to wonder.

Practical considerations.  A few observations can be made about all this as a practical matter. First, whether or not the arbitration has a collateral estoppel effect or not provides no real disincentive to a licensor to include an arbitration clause.  Collateral estoppel would surely apply if the licensor chose to litigate instead of arbitrate, unless it could show it did not have a full and fair opportunity to present its case.  Thus, arbitration provides no disadvantage over court in this regard.

Second, a licensor worried about the matter could suggest a provision in the arbitration clause that the award would simply say what if anything was owed in royalties without specifying the reasons.   Thus, no specific finding of validity would be required.  To be sure, the arbitrator is required to consider an invalidity defense, as noted above.  But that probably doesn’t mean the arbitrator has to include a specific finding on it in the award. Without a specific finding, no collateral estoppel effect is likely.

Third, the licensor still has an argument that section 294(c) should be read to eliminate the effect of an invalidity finding concerning a third party, as noted above.  This is no sure thing, but the issue could be decided in the licensor’s favor.

Finally, it seems unlikely the licensee will be concerned about whether a third party could or could not raise invalidity as a defense against its former licensor.  So long as the licensee is found not to have to pay royalties because the patent is invalid, whether or not its competitors have to pay is of little concern to the licensee. In fact, if its competitors have to pay and the licensee doesn’t, it will enjoy a competitive advantage.

Similar questions could arise concerning infringement findings in an arbitration.  Section 294 requires that the award be provided to the Director, which would include an infringement determination.  Again, a finding that the products at issue infringe the licensed patent would not be binding on a party in a later proceeding that was not a party to the arbitration.  A finding of non-infringement is much less likely to bind the licensor in subsequent disputes than a finding of invalidity.  The requirements of collateral estoppel may well not be met under the facts of the second case because different issues are being presented, depending on the products involved and the like.  And section 294(c) may foreclose use of a non-infringement finding in a later dispute involving a different licensee.  But it may not, as discussed above in the context of an invalidity finding.

Thus, arbitration remains a viable way to settle contractual disputes involving patents.  While it would be better if the statute was clearer on the precise effect arbitration determinations have in later proceedings, it is a benefit that there is a statute with the express purpose of allowing arbitration of patent disputes.

Next up. In the next article, we will proceed through the next stages in the process of arbitrating patent disputes, focusing on the use of experts.