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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.

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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 VIII: More on the prehearing conference

shutterstock_221441725In earlier articles in this series we looked at the types of patent disputes most amenable to arbitration, what to look for in choosing an arbitrator or arbitrators for the dispute, relatively foolproof clauses to make sure the matter actually goes to arbitration without having to fight about it in court, arbitration clauses that may be useful in your patent dispute, and clauses to avoid or at least skeptically consider before using.  We have now taken up the prehearing conference, the event that shapes the course of the arbitration and determines how effective and efficient the arbitration will be. These usually are conducted by phone conference.

Key questions you need to answer are: how much discovery do you need, what kind of discovery do you need, are there pre-hearing matters that we should take up before the hearing, and how long we should schedule for the hearing.  To answer those questions, you will need to plan the basics of your case, from discovery to pre-trial motions, and from experts to other testifying witnesses. .

We first considered the types of discovery available and suggested that, particularly in a smaller case, the focus should be on the basics of the case: the patent, prosecution history, the specifics of the accused product, and the basic financials that go into damages or royalty computation.  While some cases might justify more probing discovery, we noted that in many cases, limiting discovery to the main custodians of relevant documents and limiting depositions to those needed to obtain information not available from documents is the way to go.  Indeed, one good approach to deciding whether to do a particular deposition should be to determine what expect to learn, what it will cost — including preparation, travel, taking the deposition, court reporter fees and the like — and whether there is an alternative, less expensive way to obtain that information.

Subpoenas.  Another consideration is whether or not non-parties have critical information that will have to be subpoenaed.  If so, you will need to factor in time for doing that and also research what you can and can’t subpoena in the jurisdiction you find yourself in.  Many courts allow you to subpoena documents, but do not allow pre-hearing depositions. You will have to check the law in your jurisdiction.  Your arbitrator won’t do that for you.   You may want to negotiate with your opponent and the third party to obtain a deposition that can be used at the hearing rather than subpoenaing the witness for the hearing.  Of course, not all witnesses will be within the arbitrator’s subpoena power, so you may need to rely on documents.

And remember that arbitrators cannot themselves enforce subpoenas.  Only courts can do that.  So you may need to build in time for that process if the third party is unlikely to cooperate.

Infringement and Invalidity Contentions.  There are other activities in a typical patent case to consider.  Among the most important is the exchange of infringement and invalidity contentions.  The AAA Supplementary Patent Rules address these and other matters, by mandating their consideration but not necessarily requiring them in every case. (You can find these supplementary rules in the rules section at adr.org.)  It may be that your case does not require a full exchange of this information depending on the nature of the dispute, but most cases will benefit from this type of exchange.  Thus, you will want to set some time aside to have an exchange of this information.

Claim ConstructionYou may also want to provide for a relatively early claim construction hearing, as usually happens in a federal court patent case.  But think this through.  Typically, claim construction hearings are expensive and require the decision maker to consider things in a relative vacuum.  In some cases, this may be unnecessary.  I have arbitrated patent cases where “claim construction” was simply another issue to be determined after the evidentiary hearing on all issues.  The technology was quite complex, but the disputes about the claims were relatively straightforward.  Claim construction was much better presented and ultimately decided in the context of all the evidence presented at the hearing.  Because there is no jury to instruct on claim construction, the decision could be made along with all the other issues in the case.

On the other hand, there are cases where claim construction is the real issue driving the entire case.  I recently had just such a case.  The parties agreed that the key to the dispute was the construction of two or three claim terms.  If that is so, focusing the early part of the proceeding to what is needed for claim construction may well save time and money.

The point is to think about whether a separate claim construction hearing would genuinely make the proceeding more efficient, or it would just add unnecessary expense. That’s the advantage of arbitration.  The process can be molded to the requirements of the dispute.

Invalidity.  A separate, early hearing on invalidity is another thing to consider.  Again, there may be cases where the real dispute focuses on validity of the patent or patents.  It may be that there is a serious question whether the patent involves patentable subject matter, particularly in light of the recent decision by the Supreme Court in Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Internat’l.  It may be that one party thinks it has uncovered some prior art that renders the patent invalid, or the on-sale bar applies.  Determining validity early on may determine the whole case and, again, avoid other expensive discovery.  But many cases won’t be amenable to that approach.   You will want to determine the expense of a separate proceeding versus the likelihood it will actually resolve the case without need for a full hearing on all issues.

Summary judgmentParties often want to bring summary judgment motions.  Think that through carefully.  Many arbitrators are reluctant to decide a case on summary judgment given the lack of an appeal on the merits in most cases.  In many cases, it would be less expensive to simply present the facts at the hearing rather than take the time to present all the evidence in briefs and affidavits, only to discover that there is an important factual dispute that needs to be presented and determined.

The AAA rules now expressly provide for dispositive motions.  But they condition their use upon the arbitrator first determining that “the moving party has shown that the motion is likely to succeed and dispose of or narrow the issues in the case.”  AAA Commercial Rule 33.    Thus, if there is a discrete legal issue that will dispose of the whole dispute or part of it, providing for summary judgment may be in order.  But if there are likely to be disputed facts or if the issue isn’t clear cut as a legal matter until it is informed by delving into the background facts, summary judgment motions are likely to be a waste of time and money.

To be sure, there are cases where it makes good sense to focus on the legal effect of clear cut facts and foreclose the need for an expensive hearing.  But you will want to be prepared to explain how that is likely to be true in your case if you want to include a summary judgment motion in the schedule for your case.

Up next.  In the next article, we will take a look at the role of experts and other witnesses in the patent arbitration.