Federal Judges, Patents, Screw-Ups, Technology

I Don’t Think ‘Redaction’ Means What You Think It Means

Here at Above the Law, we regularly cover benchslaps: judges laying the smackdown on poorly performing attorneys. But what about when it’s the judge who says, “I’ve made a tiny huge mistake”?

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh made a significant technological blunder in a patent case between two of Silicon Valley’s heaviest hitters. Yet her mistake is almost quaint. It harkens back to an earlier, simpler time –– like, pre-2006. When legal technology was a bit more primitive, and, more specifically, when the legal profession was still learning to master PDF files.

So, what did she do? Let’s just say she couldn’t keep a secret….

Judge Koh, in San Jose, California, is handling the high-profile patent litigation between Apple and Samsung. In a nutshell, Apple claims that Samsung copied the iPhone and the iPad in making its Galaxy products. In the Friday ruling, Koh attempted to redact various pieces of information throughout the document. But simply copying and pasting the text into a new document allows anyone to see the blacked out text.

Thomson Reuters News & Insight (via Volokh Conspiracy, via How Appealing) explains the error:

The material appears to be less important for what it says about the companies than what it reveals about efforts to keep court proceedings secret.

In denying Apple’s bid to stop Samsung from selling its Galaxy smartphone and tablets in the United States, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh’s ruling inadvertently included details she had intended to black out. The judge’s staff quickly realized the error, sealed the electronic document and posted a redacted version four hours later.

The fuller version, which Reuters obtained while it was publicly available, did not expose the technical inner workings of the iPad — or anything close. Rather, it contained internal company analysis about the smartphone market, as well as some details about Apple’s patent licensing relationships with other tech companies.

Here’s a PDF of the original version. The “redactions” are sprinkled throughout the ruling. (As Dan Levine of Reuters explains on Twitter, “Highlight the redactions, hit copy, then paste it into a Word file.”)

It was interesting to see such a n00b techie mistake from a judge. These days, it seems like most of the time we see judges reaming attorneys for technical mistakes, not the judges themselves (or their clerks, ostensibly) committing the mea culpas. But no one is perfect.

The case is scheduled to go to trial next year, according to Thomson Reuters. Luckily for Judge Koh, the mistake doesn’t seem like it will affect the case going forward. But I doubt she’ll make the same mistake twice.

Exclusive: Apple vs. Samsung ruling divulges secret details [Thomson Reuters News and Insight]
Why Judge Koh nixed Apple bid to bar Samsung phones and tablets [Thomson Reuters News and Insight]
Apple v. Samsung opinion with viewable redactions [Koh Ruling – PDF]
Careful With Those Redactions [Volokh Conspiracy via How Appealing]

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