When patent holders use public courts to try to enforce their rights, they do not get to fully shut out the public from those disputes. EFF has repeatedly intervened in patent litigation seeking to vindicate the public's presumptive rights to access court proceedings and records in patent disputes, particularly those filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. In March 2024, we went back to this district court and moved to unseal records in Entropic Communications, LLC v. Charter Communications, Inc.

This case concerns a dispute between a semiconductor products provider, Entropic, and one of the nation's largest media companies, Charter, which offers cable television and internet service to millions of people. Entropic alleged that Charter infringed its patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 8,223,775, 8,284,690, 8,792,008, 9,210,362, 9,825,826, and 10,135,682), which cover cable modem technology. A key issue in the case appears to be the relevance of the industry-leading Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) cable data transmission standard. This standard is a cornerstone of cable internet in the United States, making it unusually important. In addition, Charter's license defense based on DOCSIS may implicate a core legal question in patent law: when is a particular patent “essential” to a technical standard and thus encumbered by licensing commitments? 

On September 11, 2023, Entropic moved for summary judgment of no license defense based on the DOCSIS. The public version of Entropic’s motion is heavily redacted, making it hard to understand. Entropic never moved to seal its motion, and thus did not provide any justification for sealing. Every associated exhibit remains sealed. 

From September to October 2023, Charter and Entropic filed briefs under seal without a motion to seal and without further elaboration. They filed heavily redacted public versions of each filing, making it difficult for the public to understand Charter’s asserted defense and Entropic’s arguments against it. Even a portion of a table of contents is redacted. Some exhibit names are, too.

In November 2023, Magistrate Judge Roy Payne issued a Report and Recommendation (R&R), which explained Charter’s DOCSIS defense for the first time and denied Entropic's motion in part and granted it in part. What little the public can now glean about the DOCSIS dispute is through the limited information Judge Payne revealed in his R&R, which was entirely unredacted. In the R&R, the public learned for the first time that the two key issues are (1) what the DOCSIS License means by “Licensed Technology” as a matter of contract interpretation and (2) whether Charter has plausibly shown any of the patents at issue fall within the meaning of “Licensed Technology.”

After EFF notified the parties of the many documents they had improperly filed under seal, they refused to make those records public. EFF's motion asks the court to order the parties to unseal material that it cannot justify keeping secret and to closely scrutinize any claims of secrecy made by the parties to make sure they are not broadly restricting access to court records.