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Hyatt v. Lee

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 28, 2017

GILBERT P. HYATT, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHELLE K. LEE, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ROYCE C. LAMBERTH United States District Judge.

         Before the Court are supplemental briefs concerning what information will be sealed in the course of this litigation. Mr. Hyatt argues that a great deal of the information pertaining to his patent applications and prosecutions should remain sealed. The PTO takes a more narrow view of what should remain sealed, arguing that Mr. Hyatt improperly conflates the statutory scheme governing the PTO's disclosure of information and rules surrounding transparency in litigation. However, the parties have agreed on the legal framework for analyzing the issue-they simply disagree on the conclusion.

         I. Analysis of Hubbard Factors

         Both Mr. Hyatt and the PTO argue that this question is best analyzed under United States v. Hubbard, 650 F.2d 293 (D.C. Cir. 1980).[1] Hubbard lays out a six part test:

(1) the need for public access to the documents at issue; (2) the extent of previous public access to the documents; (3) the fact that someone has objected to disclosure, and the identity of that person; (4) the strength of any property and privacy interests asserted; (5) the possibility of prejudice to those opposing disclosure; and (6) the purposes for which the documents were introduced during the judicial proceedings.

E.E.O.C. v. Nat'l Children's Ctr., Inc., 98 F.3d 1406, 1409 (D.C. Cir. 1996).

         1. The Need for Public Access

         With regards to the need for public access to the documents, there is a "strong presumption in favor of public access to judicial proceedings." Johnson v. Greater Se. Cmty. Hosp. Corp., 951 F.2d 1268, 1277 (D.C. Cir. 1991). This is important in analyzing the Hubbard factors because there the Circuit noted that:

The public . . . had access, inter alia, to the courtroom proceedings on the motion to suppress, to the memoranda filed by the parties in connection with that motion, to the trial judge's memorandum decision on the suppression motion, to the trial judge's memorandum decision on the negotiated disposition, to the stipulated record which was the basis for the defendants' convictions and to the actual "trial" of the criminal charges of which the defendants were convicted.

United States v. Hubbard, 650 F.2d 293, 317-18 (D.C. Cir. 1980). That is, the documents at issue in Hubbard were not meaningfully limited public access to judicial proceedings.

         The documents at issue here include memorandum opinions as well as memoranda filed by the parties. While not all the documents Mr. Hyatt wishes to have sealed are equivalent with respect to their impact on judicial decision-making, many of these documents were the very ones filed by or relied upon by the parties.

         The public interest in these documents is heightened because they allow the public to understand the rulings as well as the contours of the disputes between the parties. Additionally, as one of the parties is the PTO, the public's interest is higher still. Doe v. Pub. Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 271 (4th Cir. 2014) ("The interest of the public and press in access to civil proceedings is at its apex when the government is a party to the litigation. Indeed, the public has a strong interest in monitoring not only functions of the courts but also the positions that its elected officials and government agencies take in litigation.").

         In turn, Mr. Hyatt argues that no member of the public has sought to view the confidential materials in this case and further that redactions are sufficient to enable the public to understand the Court's decisions.

         However, Mr. Hyatt's primary argument is that under 35 U.S.C. § 122 patent application and prosecution information generally remains confidential before the PTO until a patent is issued. The PTO does not dispute this. Mr. Hyatt argues that this should control the Hubbard analysis, and points to In re Sealed Case,237 F.3d 657, 666 (D.C. Cir. 2001) for the proposition that "only rarely, if ever, might the remaining five Hubbard factors ...


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