(CN) – The 7th Circuit rejected a bid to remove the judge in a federal trademark lawsuit against Google over its Android operating system, saying any conflict of interest was “inconsequential.”
Erich Specht sued Google in 2009, claiming its Android operating system violated his Android Data trademark.
Specht had registered the mark after he launched a home-based website hosting company called Android Data Corp. in 1999, but the business folded in 2002. The corporation was dissolved, and Specht didn’t use the mark again until 2009 – when he learned about Google’s Android operating system.
Specht’s federal lawsuit named Google and 47 other defendants.
The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, whose wife, Lynn Martin, is a member of AT&T’s board of directors.
After the suit had been pending for about a year, Specht moved to add AT&T and three other wireless carriers as defendants. If granted, the addition of AT&T would disqualify Judge Leinenweber due to his wife’s status as a board member.
Leinenweber denied the motion instead of referring it to another judge, prompting Specht to call for his recusal.
Google argued that Specht had intentionally filed the motion to remove Leinenweber from the case.
The federal appeals court in Chicago held that the motion itself did not automatically disqualify Leinenweber, because to rule otherwise would allow litigants to manipulate the system.
“If all a litigant had to do to eject a judge from the case … was to propose adding a new party known to require the judge’s recusal, then litigants could play games with judicial assignments,” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote.
And although Easterbrook thought Leinenweber “should not have acted on the motion,” he called the error “inconsequential,” because any impartial judge would have denied the motion.
“Google, not AT&T or any other wireless carrier, chose the name ‘Android’ for the operating system,” he wrote. “If Specht is entitled to any remedy … damages and equitable relief against Google will be fully effective to vindicate Specht’s rights. There is no reason why this suit needs additional defendants.”
In Easterbrook’s view, the lawsuit “began with 47 defendants too many,” and there’s “no reason why it should proceed with 51 defendants too many.”
The 7th Circuit refused to order Leinenweber’s recusal, and rejected AT&T and Google’s request to keep their indemnity agreement and other documents confidential.
“If Google and AT&T wanted to keep the documents’ terms secret,” Easterbrook wrote, “they should not have proffered them in response to Specht’s motion.”