(CN) - After defeating baseless patent infringement claims brought in bad faith by a transportation security provider, Qualcomm can collect $12 million in attorneys' fees, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia also imposed $64,000 in sanctions against Wang, Hartmann, Gibbs & Cauley, which acted as local counsel for Gabriel Technologies.
In a 2008 lawsuit, Gabriel accused Qualcomm of paying more than $1 billion for technology that infringed on patents developed by Gabriel's predecessor, Locate Networks Inc.
Battaglia took over the case from U.S. District Judge Michael Anello in San Diego who previously dismissed Gabriel's claims and ordered it to pay a bond of $800,000 for a likely award of attorneys' fees.
Gabriel nevertheless pursued the case for an additional two years, all the while failing to identify the inventor of the patents that it claims to own.
"It was readily apparent to Judge Anello in September 2010 that plaintiffs' had maintained this action for slightly less than two years with nothing more than 'mere allegations' to support their claims," Battaglia wrote. "Several emails between Gabriel employees and former employees confirm this conclusion and suggest that plaintiffs knew they lacked the requisite evidence and opted to pursue their claims nonetheless."
Gabriel characterized these emails as an exchange of frustration brought by disgruntled employees, but Battaglia considered it evidence that Gabriel knew it could not prove its case.
"On the whole, the court concludes that the lack of evidence supporting plaintiffs' patent claims was so obvious that it should have been known by plaintiffs," he wrote. "Significantly, the emails suggest that plaintiffs knew there was no evidentiary basis for their claims in early 2010, and plaintiffs certainly had notice that their claims lacked substantiation following Judge Anello's bond order in September 2010."
Battaglia added: "The court is particularly struck by plaintiffs' decision to pursue their claims further following Judge Anello's warning that the case would likely be found exceptional based on the evidence before him at the bond hearing. Plaintiffs nevertheless continued with their claims despite Judge Anello's clear indication that there was a serious lack of evidence regarding plaintiffs' patent claims. Over time, Judge Anello's assessment proved correct and plaintiffs' claims failed for the reasons he anticipated. The court finds that plaintiffs' decision to pursue their patent claims without knowing the identity of the allegedly omitted inventor for such a long period of time, and particularly after Judge Anello's bond order, constitutes litigation misconduct."
In sanctioning Wang Hartmann under Federal Civil Procedure Rule 11, Battaglia said the firm failed to review Anello's order and investigate the merits of the case.
"WHGC did not do so, and instead continued to file documents with the court without performing the requisite reasonable inquiry under the circumstances," Battaglia wrote. "As such, every WHGC filing after September 20, 2010, was in violation of Rule 11." The firm will have to pay $64,000 to Qualcomm as attorneys' fees.
Though Qualcomm initially sought fees from Gabriel's lead counsel, Hughes, Hubbard & Reed, those parties reached a confidential settlement prior to the hearing.
Qualcomm had been represented by lead counsel Cooley LLP.
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