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JULY 2011

VOLUME 3, ISSUE 7

Software Scan

The President's Column

Over the years as an expert witness I've worked with a lot of lawyers. Most are really sharp, some are brilliant, and a few... not so much. Most attorneys know the importance of treating an expert right. First, it's the nice thing to do. Second, it's the ethical thing to do. Third, we're the people who get up on the stand, swear to an oath, present facts that can help your client, explain complex concepts to a non-technical judge or jury, and ultimately help bring justice. In this month's Scanning IP section I talk about my guidelines for lawyers to deal with expert witnesses.

Send me your comments and critiques. I'm always interested in hearing from you.

Regards,


Bob Zeidman
President, SAFE Corporation


Scanning IP

Guidelines for Lawyers Dealing with Experts

Most lawyers know the importance of treating experts with respect. Even if we turn out to be ignorant, arrogant, immature idiots, we hold the keys to presenting the facts and the analysis that will win your client's case or at least put it in the best light possible given all of the facts. If we're going to testify, you want us feeling good about it, about the client, about you, and about ourselves. Most attorneys know this but some, in the emotion of the "battle," forget this. Here's a checklist to serve as a reminder.

  • Have us give input into schedules. We know best how much work an analysis is going to take. And some of us have lives outside of work (not me, but I've heard that others do). Don't give us a schedule without our input and expect us to meet it.
  • Don't hire us just to keep us off the other side. I've had this happen. It's flattering, but it's also unethical. I need to make a living. Also I will never work for you again, and I will warn my colleagues about you.
  • Involve us with crafting the strategy. Don't let us work in the dark and then complain, for example, that our invalidity argument hurts the non-infringement argument or vice-versa. And by the way, a great argument for one will always make the other much more difficult to show.
  • Involve us with claim construction. We have the appropriate experience to figure out a decent claim construction. Too often I'm called into a case where the claim construction makes little sense to me. I need to be educated about how the claims are construed and then I need to see if I can work with them. Sometimes adding or removing a word from the claim construction would make things significantly easier for me to understand and explain to the judge and jury.
  • Give us enough time to do our jobs. Maybe this is a pipe dream. Lately, cases have been more and more compressed and I'm brought in later, probably to save costs. But it hurts the case and stresses us out.
  • Don't antagonize us. We're they guys who are going to help your client by clarifying their position and explaining difficult concepts to the judge and/or jury. You don't want us ticked off, even if we really are stupid jerks. You want us in a good frame of mind and happy about what we're doing. At least until we're done testifying.
  • Explain your positions to us patiently. If you can't get us to understand it and adopt it, how can you get a judge or jury?
  • Don't tell us we have to adopt your positions or we'll lose the case. We're independent and unbiased. The threat of losing the case is not a reason for us to support your position, and stating this can come back to haunt both of us eventually.
  • If things aren't going well, meet face-to-face. It's easier to communicate about difficult subjects. It's easier to wave hands, draw diagrams, point to things. And it's more likely for both to see each other as humans, not someone being difficult.
  • Don't expect us to understand all the legal issues. I've met lawyers who didn't understand all the legal issues. I actually do understand legal issues more than most experts because of my experience and my writing on the topic. Yet there are still gaps. And the lawyers can disagree. I've been in many long sessions where lawyers argued about legal issues.
  • Don't believe you understand all the technical issues. Some of the lawyers I've met were once great engineers. Others have no engineering experience whatsoever. Some will take my word completely and others will fight me. I don't mind reasoned debate—in fact I enjoy it. But remember that my understanding of the technical issues is ultimately what I will present in my reports and my testimony.
  • Be clear in your instructions. We know you're in a hurry, but this is critical to getting good information. I've had cases where I got a quick call to do some analysis and then spent the weekend setting up equipment, getting results, and writing a report, only to find there had been a miscommunication about what was needed. Sure I get paid per hour, but I'd still like to know I'm doing something useful. I'm sure you and your client prefer that too.
  • Have us sit in on depositions. We can add a lot of knowledge and we can help craft the direction of the questioning. I was in one deposition where, searching the Internet, I found an expert's presentation slides promoting a software method while she was testifying she would never ever use such an "unreliable" method. I've also had lawyers call me after a "very successful" deposition where they thought they'd uncovered some really useful facts but were asking questions about the wrong technology.
  • Don't write the reports and expect us to just sign it. Our reputations and careers are on the line, not yours. Unfortunately, some experts do this and collect their checks. I won't and neither will any expert worth his or her hourly rate.
  • Expect us to sleep some time. OK, the lawyers themselves get little sleep during a case. Me too. I just prefer that you act as though you care about my getting rest even though we both know I won't. So don't tell me to be available at midnight, ask me if I can please make myself available at midnight even though you know it's a burden. It just sounds nicer.
  • Pay us on time or be honest about any problems. Sometimes clients run into financial trouble. I prefer to work for a client who is honest about financial trouble than one who constantly tells me "the check is in the mail." Usually this is an issue with the client not the lawyer, but I've had lawyers misplace my final invoice, simply because they had moved onto other more pressing matters. My payment is a pressing matter, and a late or missing payment means I'm unlikely to be available the next time you need my expertise.
  • Don't negotiate our fees after the case is over. This is just poor business practice and makes me not want to work with you again. The time for negotiation is before hiring me, not after I've put in time on the case.
  • Remember that our job is to be honest and unbiased. Expect us to point out the bad along with the good. If we find your client's case doesn't have merit, at least be happy we discovered that before the other party's expert informed you at trial. You can settle early or limit the damages or just know that you did the right thing.

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This newsletter is not legal advice. Views expressed herein should be checked for accuracy and current applicability.
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