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Keker & Van Nest Fends off Intrusive Demands and Secures Sanctions for Client Netflix


Judge Slams Straight Path's 'Oppressive' Subpoena To Netflix

A California federal judge refused to force Netflix Inc. to comply with Straight Path IP Group's “oppressive” subpoena demanding depositions, source code and more for its patent suits against BlackBerry Ltd. and others, finding Tuesday that Netflix is a nonparty in the cases and Straight Path may face sanctions.

After hearing oral arguments Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge William H. Alsup ruled that Netflix will not be required to provide any of the documents or deposition testimony Straight Path demanded, because the subpoenas were overbroad given that Netflix isn't a party in the suits. After being subpoenaed in the Texas cases, Netflix sued in California federal court, seeking to quash Straight Path's demand for deposition testimony, but Judge Alsup denied Straight Path access to both depositions and documents.

“The swath of the [deposition] subpoena is so burdensome that it would be bad policy to now whittle it back to something narrow and reasonable,” Judge Alsup said in his ruling. “Instead, the baby should go out with the bath water — the entire defective subpoena will be quashed in its entirety. To do otherwise would encourage litigants to demand the moon thinking they can always fall back to something reasonable. They should be reasonable from the start.”

Judge Alsup also denied Straight Path any of its 46 document requests for source code, development plans, and "Documents and Things” showing Netflix's revenues, calling the demand “so overbroad and burdensome that it will not be enforced.”

Straight Path argued that it needed a deponent to authenticate certain unidentified documents, and that the burden on Netflix would be minimal. Judge Alsup called that argument “disingenuous” given what Straight Path was asking for and that dozens of witnesses would be required. Properly responding could cost Netflix “tens of thousands of dollars,” the judge noted.

Judge Alsup also ruled that Netflix is entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees and costs associated with responding to the motions, and said that Straight Path and its counsel with Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popco P.C. will be liable for the award, once an amount is determined.

Counsel for Netflix declined to comment on the ruling Tuesday. Representatives for Straight Path did not respond to requests for comment.

Straight Path filed separate lawsuits against BlackBerry, Samsung Electronics Co., Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. And ZTE Corp. in Texas federal court last year, accusing them of infringing three patents related to network communications. They include U.S. Patent Numbers 6,009,469, 6,108,704 and 6,131,121.

At the same time, Straight Path filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission against Sharp Corp., Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., LG Electronics Inc., Toshiba Corp. and Panasonic Corp. along with several of their foreign and domestic entities, accusing them of infringing the same three patents. In February, Sharp announced that it had agreed to license the patents from Straight Path.

The patents cover technology known as point-to-point network communication to place and receive telephone calls, play video games, listen to music, watch videos and read books, according to the ITC complaint.

Straight Path is represented by James M. Wodarski, Michael C. Newman, Nicholas W. Armington and Michelle Gillette of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PC.

Netflix is represented by Ashok Ramani and Sharif E. Jacob of Keker & Van Nest LLP.

The case is Straight Path IP Group v. BlackBerry Ltd. et al., case number 3:14-mc-80150, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.