Overlawyered, but in a Good Way?
Hello, Walter Olson?!
The excellent IP Litigation blog reports on this story about a copyright lawsuit:
Apparently, Compaq published an instruction booklet containing 7 phrases and 4 illustrations “similar” to photographs and phrases in a 100 page book published by the copyright owners. The jury agreed with Compaq that this was de minimis and “fair use” and hence not copyright infringement. However, because the copyright owners apparently engaged in scorched earth litigation tactics while ignoring their own discovery obligations, the court ordered them to pay Compaq’s attorneys’ fees in the amount of $2.7 million. (Ouch!)
Okay, so why is that “overlawyered in a good way”? Because the good guys won, the bad guys have to pay, and the fine law firm (can anyone tell me who?) that represented Compaq made a fine fee and it didn’t cost Compaq anything — right?
Well. I don’t know whether interest was a component of that attorneys’ fee award (it usually isn’t). I don’t know if the losing party can afford to pay Compaq’s fees. I do know that if a jury was able to come to this conclusion, where was the judge? Was there really no summary judgment available here? How nice for Compaq that it can afford to let $2.7 million ride for a zero-percent return over the course of X years. But what if this suit had been brought against your business?