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District Court Stays Discovery Deadlines Because of Coronavirus Threat but Keeps Markman Hearing on Calendar

Posted in IP, Patent Law

On March 6, 2020, a Central District Court in UPL NA Inc. f/k/a United Phosphorous, Inc. v. Tide International (USA), Inc. et al, 8-19-cv-01201 (CDCA 2020-03-06, Order) (Ronald S.W. Lew), issued an order that may become more common place across courts.  At the request of the parties, the Court issued a temporary stay of all discovery in the action because of the threat posed by the Coronavirus.

Specifically, the Court noted that the parties had jointly stipulated that “discovery efforts are being significantly impacted by the outbreak of coronavirus. Both parties have sought materials and testimony from witnesses who are located outside of the United States, including in China, and given current travel restrictions and quarantine rules, obtaining the discovery sought at this time is impractical, if not impossible.”  Therefore, the Court found good cause to temporarily vacate the discovery dates presented in the parties’ joint request.

However, the Court also noted that the parties’ request is predicated on specific and individual discovery related challenges faced in connection with the recent coronavirus outbreak in foreign countries, and specifically China.  Therefore, this was not a general ruling applicable to other cases where discovery may be more domestically inclined and/or face the same unique challenges.

Indeed, the Court stated that while it acknowledged the discovery obstacles, the Court did not see a basis to vacate an upcoming Markman (Patent Claim Construction) Hearing, as the parties had also requested. The court reasoned that the parties’ briefs and supporting documents had already been submitted to the Court. Further, the Court reasoned the parties had already previously agreed not to present live expert testimony at the Markman Hearing. Therefore, the Court found no basis to postpone the Markman Hearing given that no witnesses would be testifying at the Markman Hearing and the necessary documents had already been submitted.

Similarly, the Northern District posted on its website recently that “at this time there are no changes to normal court operations within the Northern District of California,” and the Central District stated it “continues to closely monitor the national response” but has not yet changed its normal operations.  The Southern District also made a similar pronouncement that there are no changes to its normal court operations yet.

Thus, while individual cases may be impacted for specific and unique issues, California District Courts, as of yet, have not made whole sale changes to their operations.  But, of course, this may or may not change as things quickly evolve.