May 2006

What Were They Thinking? Even the least experienced Massachusetts lawyer knows that when an answer to a lawsuit is not filed within the requisite 20 days and a default judgment is issued, the default is easily set aside as a matter of course based on even the flimsiest excuse. And, if the answer is filed only one day late professional courtesy mandates that the plaintiff permit the defendant to file late.

Apparently some lawyers in a large Boston law firm (unidentified) never got this message: they refused to agree to set aside a default under these circumstances, forcing the defendant (who filed his answer one day late) to file a motion to remove the default. After reviewing the law and (predictably) setting aside the default, Superior Court Judge Mitchell Sikora slammed the plaintiff’s lawyers hard:

Beyond the letter and purpose of the legal standards, conscientious judges and attorneys attempt to implement our litigation system with reasonable efficiency, civility, and common sense.

Read the full article

Supreme Court Swats "Patent Trolls"

by Lee Gesmer on May 16, 2006

Patents. “Patent trolls” or “patent litigation firms” — companies which buy patents not to produce a product or service, but solely to enforce them in the courts — must be quaking under their bridges this morning. In yesterday’s decision in eBay v. MercExchange the Supreme Court appears to have bought the anti-troll argument whole hog, giving the federal trial courts the discretion to enjoin a patent infringer, and to include in its decision factors such as whether a patent holder practices the patent, is a self-made inventor or university researcher (factors favoring an injunction) or instead has purchased the patent from the inventor to obtain license fees (a factor disfavoring an injunction).

Before this case there was a more-or-less presumptive rule that a patent owner successful in proving infringement was entitled to stop continued use by the defendant, regardless of the identity of the patent owner. The eBay decision abolishes that rule; instead, the courts have been instructed to apply the traditional four-factor test for permanent injunctions, which weighs various equitable factors.… Read the full article

Surprise Victory for eBay

by Lee Gesmer on May 15, 2006

In what comes as something of a surprise decision, the Supreme Court today ruled in favor of eBay in eBay v. MercExchange, holding that judges do not have to automatically enjoin companies from using patents that they have been shown to have violated. This decision shifts the balance of power in patent litigation away from patent enforcers in favor of defenders. The decision comes as a surprise because, based on comments by the Justices during oral argument, it appeared that the Justices were leaning in the opposite direction.

A link to the decision is [here].

An article discussing this case that I wrote for the April 28, 2006 issue of the Boston Business Journal while the case was pending is linked [here].… Read the full article

Is It Defamatory To Call Someone a "Dumb Ass"?

by Lee Gesmer on May 5, 2006

What Were They Thinking? Three California appeals judges thought not. In dismissing a defamation suit by two politicians who were listed as numbers one and two on a list of “Top Ten Dumb Asses,” the Court observed:

The accusation that plaintiffs are top-ranking “Dumb Asses” cannot survive application of the rule that in order to support a defamation claim, the challenged statement must be found to convey “a provably false factual assertion.” . . . A statement that the plaintiff is a “Dumb Ass,” even first among “Dumb Asses,” communicates no factual proposition susceptible of proof or refutation. It is true that “dumb” by itself can convey the relatively concrete meaning “lacking in intelligence.” Even so, depending on context, it may convey a lack less of objectively assayable mental function than of such imponderable and debatable virtues as judgment or wisdom. To call a man “dumb” often means no more than to call him a “fool.”

Read the full article