To nearly everyone (including other attorneys), patent cases just aren’t the stuff of juicy and scandalous great stories, like say, a celebrity divorce case. It’s true that one has to be at least a little bit nerdy to appreciate the intrigue of the usual patent case. But the Aptix & Mentor Graphics v. Quickturn Design patent case, with all of its weird twists and turns, could have been a Scott Turow thriller. Litigation in the case wrapped up in about 2003, but the case still comes up now and then, particularly where lab notebooks, engineers gone bad and attorney ethics might be involved.
Back in the 1990’s, Dr. Amr Mohsen was an engineer who started a company named Aptix Corporation. Aptix/Mohsen held some interesting patents on field programable circuit boards that caught the interest of a big player in the industry, Mentor Graphics. Mentor seemed primarily interested in the patents to sue and crush its smaller competitor QuickTurn Design and it obtained a license from Aptix to do just that (via Mentor’s subsidiary, Meta). Meta/Aptix sued QuickTurn in early 1998 for infringement of Aptix’s ‘069 patent (U. S. Patent No. 5,544,069).
To bolster his claimed date of conception of the invention at issue, Mohsen entered his late-1980’s lab notebook as evidence into the case. That meant that a copy of the lab notebook had to be sent to counsel for QuickTurn, since the notebook would be an exhibit at trial. Back then, Carlene Arnold was a paralegal at Lyon & Lyon, QuickTurn’s counsel. Carlene was handling the documents and trial exhibits in the case and began the big job of reviewing, logging and organizing the documents as they came in. As Carlene looked over the pages of Mohsen’s handwritten lab notebook, something about the notebook just didn’t seem right.
The thing was, Lyon & Lyon already had another copy of Mohsen’s same lab notebook. That particular copy had been sent to Lyon & Lyon much earlier by Mohsen’s patent attorneys, San Jose-based Skjerven, Morrill, McPherson, Franklin and Friel (now defunct). The problem became apparent when Carlene placed the two copies side-by-side. The copies were vastly different, but should have been identical in every regard since they were copies of the same lab notebook. The later copy sent by Mohsen/Mentor had much more detail, including additional notations and sketches. QuickTurn’s attorneys became suspicious that Mohsen had altered the lab notebook to create an earlier date of conception and reduction to practice to bolster Meta/Aptix’s case. Over the ensuing months, the parties argued about the lab notebook entries. QuickTurn’s attorneys eventually filed a motion to compel forensic testing of the lab notebook’s ink.
The day before the hearing, however, Aptix’s attorney informed Quickturn that testing would not be possible because the notebook had allegedly been stolen from Mohsen’s Mercedes. By early 2000, Judge William Alsup was presiding over the case and he ordered the parties to brief the Court as to whether Meta/Aptix’s case should be dismissed due to Mohsen’s alleged destruction of evidence.
However, just before the hearing on that motion, Mohsen claimed that important pages of the lab notebook had mysteriously re-appeared in an envelope mailed to him by an anonymous person. A note in the envelope explained that the alleged anonymous sender found the pages lying in his backyard. Mohsen’s ‘revelation’ obviously heightened Judge Alsup’s concern that Mohsen was playing QuickTurn and the Court. Meanwhile, QuickTurn continued its efforts to have Meta/Aptix’s case dismissed. About a day before the hearing, Aptix/Mohsen’s counsel, Robert Taylor, withdrew his representation of Mohsen, but continued to represent Aptix in the case. Judge Alsup postponed the hearing until May of 2000 to give Mohsen’s new attorney, Daniel Bookin of O’Melveny & Myers, time to get up to speed on the case.
At the hearing, QuickTurn’s ink expert testified that much of the ink in the alleged 1980’s lab notebooks was unavailable until 1994. Meta/Aptix and Mohsen spent much energy disputing QuickTurn’s findings, but then they radically changed gears. Meta/Aptix now claimed that they would rely on the filing date of the ‘069 patent rather than an earlier date based on the lab notebooks. This, they claimed, made the whole lab notebook fiasco irrelevant. The Court wasn’t buying Meta/Aptix and Mohsen’s argument. In the Court’s written decision, Judge Alsup wrote that Mohsen had been caught “red-handed in a “premeditated and sustained campaign of lies and forgery.” The decision went on to note that Mohsen had likely fabricated the entire 1988 lab notebook and had likely staged the alleged notebook theft (see Judge Alsup’s June 2000 decision here). The Court also declared the ‘069 patent unenforceable and awarded QuickTurn $4.6 million in fees and $850,000 in costs.
Mentor/Meta/Aptix appealed and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed on the District Court’s finding of invalidity. The Federal Circuit, however, upheld the Court’s remaining findings and declared the patent unenforceable. By that time, Cadence Design Systems had purchased QuickTurn and it entered into a settlement with Mentor/Meta. As we’ll see, Mohsen’s story, however, was far from over.
Stay tuned for Part II of “More on Lab Notebooks and the Strange Tale of Amr Mohsen”, where we’ll see that the bizarre aspects of Mohsen’s case had only just begun.