Washington, D.C.—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today urged a panel of judges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to take a stand for open access to judicial proceedings and allow the public to watch by video an upcoming hearing in a patent case involving Apple.
EFF is fighting for public access in a lawsuit brought by Uniloc, which has sued hundreds of companies, including Apple, for infringing patents. Uniloc wants to keep certain court documents about how it operates out of the public domain. In this case, against Apple, Uniloc sought to seal documents that could reveal whether it actually owns the patents at issue, and therefore, whether it even has the right to sue anyone for infringing them.
A district court judge correctly refused to seal Uniloc’s documents, in response to an EFF request. Uniloc has asked the Federal Circuit Court to reverse the decision. EFF was allowed to become a party in this appeal to argue for unsealing.
Judges of the federal circuit are scheduled to hear arguments about Uniloc’s request in April. The company will have to explain for the first time in court why it should be allowed to prevent public access to its documents. In a filing today, EFF asked the Federal Circuit Court to provide the public access to a video recording of the proceeding so that all interested persons—including other parties sued by Uniloc, patent attorneys, judges, and advocates for patent reform—can also watch the hearing. The Uniloc hearing video should either be livestreamed or made available to the public on the court’s website, EFF told the court.
“Many U.S. circuit courts, and nearly all state supreme courts, already allow the public to be participants in our justice system by livestreaming hearings for anyone to view,” said EFF Staff Attorney Alex Moss. “This is an opportunity for the court to show its commitment to the right of access by ensuring that a hearing about that very right is available to the public.”
Companies in patent cases routinely abuse rules protecting the public’s right to access court documents by claiming the material contains trade secrets and asking judges to seal far more information than the Constitution or common law allows. The public has a strong interest in information about patent ownership—it’s the government that bestows patent holders the right to keep others from using patented inventions and the ability to sue those who do so without permission.
To get permission to use an invention, people need to know who owns the patent. But patent trolls—which don’t make or sell technology and instead make money by threatening to sue infringers—often try to slice and dice patent rights between multiple entities in a way that makes it impossible for the public to identify the legal owner of the patents. The practice also makes it easier for patent trolls to hide behind shell companies to keep those it threatens in the dark about previous settlements or losses, as well as to duck sanctions for filing meritless lawsuits.
Meanwhile, companies being sued for infringement have little to no reason to fight for the public’s right of access. They often want to preserve their own ability to keep information from the public in other proceedings.
“There’s more at stake than a patent fight between a tech giant and a troll,” said Moss “The Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction over not just appeals in patent cases, but appeals in veterans’ court, trademark, military contract, federal employment, international trade, and other cases, many of which are also of vital interest to the public.
“The court should honor the public’s right to access the work of the courts by livestreaming the proceeding on its website. Publicly accessible livestreaming will ensure that the public, including less-resourced individuals and small businesses that so often face patent claims, has the information and facts often available only to select lawyers and their corporate clients,” said Moss.
For EFF’s filing:
For more on this case: