Category: Litigation

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Google Antitrust Investigations: FTC, EU, state attorneys general… More to come?

The ABA Journal reported this week that Google was subpoenaed by the Missouri attorney general (Josh Hawley) for antitrust and consumer protection violations. Google has been placed on notice and the investigation is ongoing. Earlier this year, the Mississippi attorney general sued Google for similar violations and the European Union fined the company $2.7 billion for consumer protection violations. Are you seeing a pattern? Antitrust litigation against Google seems to be full speed ahead.

According to the article, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) completed an investigation against Google in 2013. The FTC concluded, “We have not found sufficient evidence that Google manipulates its search algorithms to unfairly disadvantage vertical websites that compete with Google-owned vertical properties.” Evidently, Mr. Hawley does not agree with the FTC finding so he decided to investigate on his own.

When investigating and prosecuting cases involving sophisticated technology and antitrust issues, attorneys depend on experts to perform complex investigations and unravel complex issues. Who will the attorneys general and defense counsel turn to in support of these involved matters? Let’s take a look at the issues:

Antitrust / Consumer Protection:

To understand more about the laws governing antitrust issues in the US please visit the FTC for a brief summary.

Essentially, United States antitrust law is a collection of federal and state laws regulating the conduct and organization of businesses, generally to promote fair competition for the benefit of consumers.  As the FTC page indicates, there are three main laws covering antitrust behavior: the Sherman Act 1890, the Clayton Act 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act 1914. For more than 100 years, “The antitrust laws have had the same basic objective: to protect the process of competition for the benefit of consumers, making sure there are strong incentives for businesses to operate efficiently, keep prices down, and keep quality up.” The laws also basically prevent collusion or cartel-like practices and monopolies.

The Missouri attorney general has said, “There is strong reason to believe that Google has not been acting with the best interest of Missourians in mind.” It appears the Mr. Hawley believes Google is doing things which are not promoting, and possibly impeding, fair competition. Further, their algorithms may be directing users to Google-owned properties rather than websites offering services which compete with those Google-owned properties. As Google is the 800 pound gorilla when it comes to Internet searching, any tactics directing users to their own goods or services could be considered a restraint of trade.

In order to prove Google manipulates algorithms for their own benefit, the Missouri attorney general is probably going to have to employ some expert consultants who may later testify as expert witnesses. Google’s defense counsel will probably have to do the same. I assume Google will have many of the pre-litigation consultants in-house.

During the investigation, Mr. Hawley will likely need to consult with antitrust and antitrust economics experts to determine if actions by Google are negatively impacting consumers or restraining trade. Furthermore, he may need to employ consultants to conduct market research to have statistical evidence of the impact on consumers.

Algorithms:

Most of us (is this too presumptive?) have some sort of rough idea about search algorithms and what they accomplish. We understand it to be a mathematical equation used to search data and deliver a result based on the search terms we utilized.

After reading my last paragraph, I have to say there are probably far more accurate and simplistic descriptions of an algorithm. I may not have properly described how they work. That’s because I’m not a computer scientist. Luckily, neither the prosecution nor defense will be calling Nick Rishwain as an expert witness in Missouri v. Google.

The legal representatives from both sides are going to need assistance in understanding search algorithms and how algorithms might be manipulated by Google. They are going to need to know this quite early in the case in order to request and deliver the proper documentation during the investigation and discovery stages should Missouri file a lawsuit.

Both sides will likely need the assistance of information and Internet technology consultants. More specifically, I can see the need for information science & architecture experts as well as search engine optimization experts.

As the ABA Journal article made abundantly clear: Google has faced many legal actions related to antitrust and it appears even more legal actions lie ahead. It should be noted that Google is not alone in this area. There appears to be increased chatter about antitrust actions against Amazon as well. If the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission avoid taking action, we may see more attorneys general choosing to investigate and possibly prosecute the corporate giants for dominating the market.

For more information, check out the Experts.com Antitrust Articles section.

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Opioid Crisis – An increase in addiction medicine and pain management expert witnesses.

In the nearly 8 years that I’ve been with Experts.com, I have noticed a massive increase in the number of addiction medicine and pain management expert witnesses marketing their services with our company. Between 2010, when I joined Experts.com, and today, the increase has been nearly five-fold.

Is this increase a surprise? Based on what we’re seeing in the news, the answer is no. The United States is experiencing an opioid epidemic. According to CNN’s Opioid Crisis Fast Facts, “more than two million of Americans have become dependent on or abused prescription pain pills and street drugs.” CNN further explains, “during 2015, there were 52,404 overdose deaths in the United States, including 33,091 (63.1%) that involved an opioid. That’s an average of 91 opioid overdose deaths each day.”

Just last week, I spoke to one expert witness who experienced an opioid-related death in his family.  The same day, hours apart, another expert began promoting his pain management and addiction medicine services on our site. This epidemic is impacting millions of families throughout our country. As a result of this epidemic, and much of the overdoses stemming from prescription medication, we are beginning to see significant litigation in the area of opioid-based pharmaceuticals.

Our Opioid Litigation Experiences:

Experts.com has processed more than a handful of expert witness referrals related to opioids. The cases have ranged from prescription abuse in family law settings to overdose issues resulting in wrongful death actions. Probably the most interesting opioid-related matter was as follows: general counsel for a mining company in a small town discovered the townspeople were using methadone at a rate approximately 5 times higher than the national average. Many citizens of the town were also employees of the mining company. They grew concerned about the potential liabilities of employees operating heavy equipment while ingesting powerful pain killers. The company decided to do some testing which triggered some privacy concerns and potential litigation. We have delivered toxicologists, addiction medicine specialists, and pain management professionals in dozens of different opioid-related cases.

Recent Litigation:

In the last few years, we have seen stories of both civil and criminal litigation related to the opioid epidemic, even before it was claimed to be a crisis. Here are a few of the cases you may want to follow:

Civil Litigation:

There have been many lawsuits against Purdue Pharma (maker of OxyContin) since the early 2000’s. As one article explains, more and more state and local governments are launching lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of heavy-duty pain medications. The frequency of these lawsuits is almost weekly.  In addition to Purdue Pharma, Cardinal Health, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Janssen, and others are targeted.

In July of this year, one of the lawyers, Michael Moore, who targeted tobacco companies in the 1990’s, began urging state lawsuits against the drug makers. By August, an Oregon County sued pharmaceutical companies for $250 million for allegedly persuading physicians to over prescribe opioids. As of September, Attorneys General in 37 states were urging insurance companies to do more to curb the opioid epidemic.

What can we deduce from the high-profile coverage of civil suits against the makers of pain killers? In my assessment, the worst is yet to come for the drug makers. This does not mean the drug makers are defenseless against the lawsuits. After all, there are others in the supply chain to be blamed: doctors, pharmacies, and the patients themselves. Over the long-term, the pain medication lawsuits are likely to be very costly for manufacturers and distributors.

Criminal Litigation:

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to ask you to assume that there is significant drug related crime and we’re going to skip the standard (possession and distribution) opioid cases. Where I have noticed a substantial increase, both in the news and in requests for expert witnesses, is in criminal prosecutions of prescribing physicians and pharmacists.

As CNN described, “doctors are increasingly being held accountable — some even facing murder charges — when their patients overdose on opioid painkillers they prescribed.” The article further explains that the DEA took action against 88 doctors in 2011 and 479 doctors in 2016. One of the doctors described has been convicted of murder. I see at least one new story a week where a doctor, or pharmacist, is being held responsible for the excessive amounts of pain killers prescribed.

The numbers described in the article above, combined with a more aware public, lead me to believe we’ll see even larger numbers of DEA actions against doctors when the 2017 statistics are available.

Other Legal Issues:

As you can tell, I focused on the two areas that I’ve noticed the largest increase in visible litigation. We have processed many other expert witness referrals associated with opioid issues. Many overdose cases are resulting in medical malpractice actions as well as actions brought by medical boards for ethical violations by doctors.  We often see the requests for expert witnesses relating to emergency medicine physicians, toxicologists, pharmacy and pharmacology experts, and more.

Opioid litigation may very well be the “tobacco” litigation of our time.  As such, we are confident that we’ll have more to write about and discuss in the future.

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Precision is Key to Patent Indefiniteness Challenge

Prior to June of 2014, the standard for patent review made it nearly impossible to invalidate a patent claim for “indefiniteness” or ambiguity. The  U.S. Supreme Court drastically changed that standard in Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc.

Nautilus brought the case before the Supreme Court based on the notion that “the patent system is best served when patent claims are precise, definite, and certain. Ambiguous and indefinite patents stifle competition and encourage unnecessary litigation.” The Supreme Court agreed saying that the ambiguity the lower court used to evaluate the patent would “leave courts and the patent bar at sea without a reliable compass.” In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Court asked the court of appeals to reevaluate whether Nautilus infringed on Biosig’s patent design based on stricter standards.

Although the Nautilus case involved a utility patent, it is suggested by Industrial Design expert, Robert John Anders, that this standard would most likely apply to design patent drawings as well. In a recent article, Mr. Anders posits that the use of break lines or brackets with “indeterminant” measurements could also lead to ambiguity, making design drawings vulnerable to patent infringement challenges.

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Read the full article here: Design Patent Drawing Conventions: Break Lines That May Be Fatal

Robert John Anders is a member of the Industrial Designers Society of America and the Human Factors and Ergonomic Society with more than 40 years of professional experience. Mr. Anders has been retained as an Industrial Design Expert for over 17 years.

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The Tech Industry and Litigious NPEs

Patent InfringementIt comes as no surprise that the tech industry is the most litigated of 2012-2013. With companies such as Apple, Samsung, Verizon, LG, and Google vying for major shares of the market, competition can get fierce. For over a year, Samsung and Apple have been slugging it out over the copy and design of the iPhone’s software features. These, however, are operating companies with products and services to sell, both of which are vulnerable to fundamentally important legal counter-assertion defenses. Intellectual property litigation gets even more complicated and egregious when it is engendered by entities with no competitive products and services. The same defenses do not apply to to these entities. Even with new and pending patent reform laws in place, high tech litigation is overwhelming our court system and affecting the bottom lines of many high tech companies in industries such as electronics, communications, semiconductors, and software.

The most notable combatants in the IT litigation arena are the Non-Practicing Entities (NPEs), derogatorily known as “patent trolls.” These companies base their revenue stream solely on collecting, licensing, and enforcing patents, litigating whenever there is a threat to their patent’s market share, whether real or dubious. Although under criticism from some, James Bessen and Michael Meurer from Boston University released a highly publicized study estimating that the direct cost of NPE patent assertions is “substantial, totaling about $29 billion in accrued costs in 2011.” Although this includes patent infringement awards in all industries, high tech makes up fifty percent of NPE suits filed.

Litigation brought on by NPEs, both costly and time consuming, is difficult to defend. According to PatentFreedom, a company dedicated to assessing and addressing specific NPE risks, since NPEs “do not sell products or services (other than the licensing of their patents), NPEs typically do not infringe on the patent rights contained in others’ patent portfolios. As a result, they are essentially invulnerable to the threat of counter-assertion, which is otherwise one of the most important defensive – and stabilizing – measures in patent disputes.”

The America Invents Act (AIA) passed in September of 2011, which was meant to limit the number of defendants an NPE can join in a suit, has not curbed the amount of patent infringement litigation occurring today. The major tenet of AIA is a shift from “first to invent” to “first to file.” As such, NPEs can no longer gather all possible defendants in an effort to maximize awards. With good intentions, Congress set out to decrease the “deep pocket” syndrome, thereby reducing the number of suits filed. Although the AIA changes the economics of litigation, it has not, in the past few years, decreased the number of cases filed by NPEs. In fact, PatentFreedom estimates that, NPE  litigation against operating companies has increased by 170 from 2012 to 2013, and this is only the halfway mark. In 2012, the number of cases filed against operating companies was 4,229. So far this year, that number has increased to 4,400.

In March of 2013, the Shield Act was passed to curb the amount of egregious lawsuits brought on by NPEs. In effect, it makes NPEs responsible for the litigation costs of failed suits. However, the Shield Act requires defendants to take the suit all the way to final judgement. Since much time and resources are required to litigate these suits, most settle well before judgement. This leaves the door wide open for opportunistic NPEs.
Considering they have the right to sue, do NPEs, by their nature, have an unfair advantage over the operating companies they are suing. Considering the state of affairs today, should Congress do more to level the playing field? Only time will tell how this battle plays out.

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Watermarking Your Curriculum Vitae

As disconcerting as it may be, unscrupulous activity does exist in the legal industry. As a leader in the Expert Witness and Consultant field, Experts.com believes in not only promoting our members’ services, but in protecting them as well. As such, we encourage our Experts and Consultants to Watermark their Curriculum Vitae.Watermark CV

Marking the CV with such statements as “UNOFFICIAL,”  “NOT YET RETAINED,”  “DO NOT SUBMIT,” or “UNAUTHORIZED,”  prevents unconscionable practitioners  from downloading  a CV and submitting it as their “Retained” expert witness, or implying such, without the knowledge and consent of the expert.  The watermark makes it clear to other parties what the status of the relationship is between the attorney and the expert.

The benefit of watermarking a CV is twofold. One, it allows an Expert to promote his services and qualifications and still feel secure that they will not be presented without his express consent and, two, it allows the Expert an opportunity to offer the most current version of his CV. Since the attorney must contact the Expert for an “Un-Watermarked” version, the Expert can then update the CV and bring to the attorney’s attention any new work experience or litigation successes.

For more information, or to become an Experts.com Expert Witness or Consultant, please contact us at support@experts.com.

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Experts.com Launches New Website Platform


Experts.com is proud to announce the launch of its new website platform, with a sophisticated and modern new look and functionality. The changes are specifically intended to increase usability and brand awareness for the benefit of Experts.com Members.

The new website allows Members to market their expertise across multiple platforms, e.g., Expert Witness, Expert Consultant, Expert Answers, Expert Services, Expert Forum and Expert Blog. Members can now customize their Profiles to targeted markets through photos, video testimonials, publications such as articles and books and any other pertinent pages, documents or links of interest. The new site launched August 4, 2011 with the first two platforms for Expert Witnesses and Expert Consultants.

An attorney himself, Experts.com’s President and CEO, Nabil E. Zumout, Esq., strongly believes that the Expert Witness and Expert Consultant search process must be Efficient, Effective and Economical, especially in this troubled economy. “Our Members are at the top of their respective fields. Their expertise may vary in complexity and their services are often equally diverse. The new platform allows each Member to tailor his or her Profile to the intended audience, highlighting the particular expertise or service of interest to that audience and without compromising his or her marketing message.”

On the administrative side, Mr. Zumout states that, “the new platform allows for the consolidated management and tracking of Profiles, Articles, Books, etc., that are linked to each Profile. Finally, upgrading the infrastructure to the latest .NET platform will allow us to add more features, including Member Profile Pages with Unique, SEO friendly URLs. Again, we are simply better facilitating the means of communication between our Experts and those seeking their services.”

Please visit Experts.com to view our new look and functionality! Email support@experts.com with any questions or comments.

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PATENT INFRINGEMENT – CEASE AND DESIST!

Patent infringement litigation has been on the rise since the mid 1990s due mainly to the increase in computer-age technology.  Most patent infringement cases involve one company charging another company with selling or using its product for their own economic advantage.  Many times, the Defendant in a patent litigation case has no idea he is infringing on another’s intellectual property, but ignorance is never a defense in the law.  The Defendant will still have to cease benefiting from the patented item and pay the allotted damages to the Plaintiff.   If  the infringement is proven to be willful, damages in such a case can be increased up to three times the actual amount of damage.

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Patent law is governed by Federal Law and the rules are set out by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, 35 U.S.C. 271 Infringement of patent. – Patent Laws.  To find that a patent has indeed been infringed upon, several items must be found. In an article entitled, “Understanding Patent Infringement Legal Opinions”, David V. Radack sets out the following:

  1. A copy of the allegedly infringed patent.
  2. The file wrapper or file history of the patent which includes a copy of the patent application as filed, communication from the patent examiner in charge of the application, and communication from the applicant to the patent examiner.
  3. A copy of the prior art references cited during the prosecution of the patent application.
  4. The allegedly infringing product or device itself. Preferably, a commercially sold device is best.

Once this information is analyzed, many times with the help of Patent Infringement Expert Witnesses and Consultants, an opinion summary is provided.  It is this opinion which sets forth how the parties will proceed, how  the Defendant should respond to a cease and desist order, if changes can be made to Defendant’s product which will eliminate the violation, or to negate a charge of intentional infringement.

Considering the litigation gridlock currently in the Federal Court system, it may be worth it to seek the knowledge of  a Patent Expert or Consultant concurrent with the development of a new device or product. If not then, retaining a Consultant prior to marketing the product could save an enormous amount of time and money.

Please click the link for a list of knowledgeable Intellectual Property, Patent Infringement and Trademark Expert Witnesses and Consultants.