"One Ring to Rule Them All?" E-Discovery Search Methodology in Patent Litigation in Light of Recent Model Orders and Case Law

Two Model Rules from the E-discovery-Kings under the sky:
Five or eight custodians for Tech-Lords in their courts of stone;
The vast production of metadata, perhaps doomed to die;
Five or ten search terms for the Dark Lord's e-mail on his dark throne
In the Land of Litigants where the patent Trolls lie.
But is there One Ring to rule them all? One Ring to find them?
One Ring to search them all and then produce and bind them,

In the Land of Litigants where patent cases lie?

 

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door . . .You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
              -- J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Somewhere along the road of litigation and technology, e-discovery's All-Seeing Eye grew bigger than its stomach. Overall, only .0074% of documents requested and produced in litigation (less than 1 in 10,000) wind up on trial exhibit lists.  Still less are actually used. For e-mail, hotly demanded due to the hopes of finding a smoking gun in informal and hastily-sent communications, the proportion is even lower. This trend is especially concerning in intellectual property litigation -- patent cases in particular.

To combat this trend, two sets of courts -- let's call them the Fellowship of the E-Discovery Kings -- recently set on journeys to narrow the range of the All-Seeing Eye in patent litigation, issuing similar and helpful Model Orders for e-discovery to curtail mass and unnecessary production.  But whether there is really One Ring to Rule Them All when it comes to search methodologies -- one workable solution -- may not be as clear as the E-Discovery Kings propose.

 

"Advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill."
                  -- J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

First, in November 2011, the Advisory Council of the Federal Circuit promulgated a model rule for patent cases “to streamline e-discovery, particularly email production.” This Model Order's provisions (a) exclude e-mail from general production requests for ESI, requiring parties to serve requests seeking email production on specific issues; (b) limit to five, both the number of custodians whose email must be searched and the number of terms that can be used in Boolean searches of a party’s electronic correspondence; (c) preclude production of all but limited metadata absent good cause; and (d) require that if a party serves broader discovery, it would bear all reasonable costs. Courts have already adopted at least parts of the Model Order, applying it not just to "patent troll" cases but competitor-based patent litigation as well. See, e.g., DCG Sys., Inc. v. Checkpoint Techs., LLC, 2011 WL 5244356 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 2, 2011); Effectively Illuminated Pathways v. Aston Martin, No. 6:11-cv-00034 (E.D. Tex., Oct. 20, 2011).

Second, in February 2012 the Eastern District of Texas, one of the nation’s most popular patent litigation venues for plaintiffs (and the dwelling of trolls in particular), followed up its own Model Order for e-discovery in patent cases. The Texas version differs from the Federal Circuit version in that it (a) permits requesting e-mail from eight custodians; (b) doubles the permissible search terms to ten; and (c) does not contain the Federal Circuit's flexibility for additional discovery or its cost-shifting provisions for adding more custodians or search terms, but does allow parties to move to expand discovery for less than "good cause." Other provisions include requiring the parties to exchange the identities of the fifteen most significant email custodians, allowing for targeted early discovery, and providing guidance on the format of ESI production -- for example providing for production as TIFF images, governing when documents must be produced in searchable format, delineating the sources of data that must be preserved, and excusing parties from restoring back-ups and from preserving and collecting data from voicemails, PDAs and mobile phones, absent good cause.

 

"Short cuts make long delays."
       -- J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings

Together, the two Model Orders promise to be valuable resources, brainchildren of jurists with among the most patent litigation experience in the judiciary. However, a major presumption underlying both Model Orders is that key-word search terms are the One Ring to Rule Them All: the optimal and only search methodology. Nor is there guidance on how the parties should forge those terms to make sure they return the bulk of relevant and responsive material. In truth, key-word searching may be well on the way to becoming the hard-copy paper document review in today's electronically-favored process -- outmoded and outdated. As such, propounding keyword searching as the gold standard threatens to elevate process over substance, expediency over efficacy.

For example, the results returned from a simple key-word search can be over-inclusive. The terms may be so broad that they return a googol of "hits" to wade through, many of which have nothing to do with the core issues. The collection of terms can likewise be under-inclusive, returning very few hits due to a party's internal use of code words (i.e., "Operation Rivendell" for references to a particular patent or invention). Or perhaps the propounding party simply failed to guess or the searching party's failed to volunteer, "precious" catchphrases that would uncover what a party conceals in its back e-pocket. Ralph Losey, in his popular e-Discovery Team blog, has even referred to keyword searching as similar to a child's game of Go Fish, in which both players try to guess the other side's cards while attempting to conceal their own. Finally, even obvious terms can be overlooked in simple keyword searches: in Wingnut Films v. Katja Motion Pictures Corp., No. 05-1516-RSWL, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72953 (C.D. Cal. 2007), for example, a litigation surrounding the Lord of the Rings movies, the target of a discovery request was admonished for having failed to search its servers for the simple phrase ‘‘Lord of the Rings’,’ And this was without a single-digit limit on search terms.

 

"Far below the deepest delving of the dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things." 
                  - J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Another important fallacy of keyword searching is the fact that it is increasingly not the names and words (the sole focus of keyword searching) that dictate importance. The exact terminology used in an e-mail is becoming less meaningful, with the context -- the individual(s) who sent and received the message, the timing, and its location on the system -- mattering more and more. Keyword searches alone will fail as an All-Seeing Eye:  it will miss many of these features.

What, then, is the One Ring to Rule Them All that should have been utilized? And is there even one? In parallel with our Fellowship's journey and the forging of their Model Orders in the hot fires of patent litigation, another power was on the rise: predictive coding. While such computer-assisted review tools (which allow for automation of a major proportion of document review, with less need for human management) have been around for several years, it was June 2011 when one of the larger e-discovery vendors was issued a patent on the process, thrusting it into even greater prominence. Unlike keyword search terms, predictive coding teaches computers to "predict" the relevant documents based not only on key terminology, but features like dates, names, broader phrases, and other items of context.  Moreover, it is estimated that by automating a significant amount of e-discovery review, predictive coding can save up to 70% of review costs.

While courts and attorneys have been slow to adopt this new technology, in the same month the Fellowship of the Eastern District of Texas forged its Model Order, Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York approved the use of predictive coding in Monique Da Silva Moore, et al. v. Publicis Group SA, et al, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23350 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2012), aff'd, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58742 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 26, 2012). While neither party in Da Silva Moore actually objected to the use of the technology -- the decision addressed implementation rather than use -- that same week a state court judge approved the use of predictive coding over one party's objection. Global Aerospace v. Landow Aviation , No. CL 61040 (Vir. Cir. Ct. Apr. 23, 2012). Between Da Silva Moore and Global Aerospace, it is thus becoming clear that the judiciary will not hesitate to incorporate predictive coding into e-discovery where appropriate. In fact, Judge Peck noted that computer-assisted review "should be seriously considered for use in large-data-volume cases," and Judge Andrew Carter, who affirmed Da Silva Moore, acknowledged that manual review, upon which keyword searching relies, "is prone to human error and marred with inconsistencies from the various attorneys determination of whether a document is responsive."

 

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost. 

         --  J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

But despite the limits to keyword searches and the advantages of predictive coding, the latter may still not be an All-Seeing Eye, or the One Ring to Rule Them All. There are times in which the Old Ways of keyword searching may still be the best candidate. In patent troll cases, for example, where discovery tends to be disproportionately heavy on the accused infringer's side and lighter for the troll (who usually has no product or business other than patent licensing and enforcement to speak of), focused keyword searching may be sufficient. The same is true for other smaller patent and IP litigation disputes. Even then, however, the limitations of keyword searching make it prudent to use it only in conjunction with other search tools, and not as a stand-alone methodology. (Case in point: the arsenal of tools in predictive coding includes keyword searching). But for non-patent troll cases, and for more complex, competitor-based patent and other IP disputes (for example, trade secret misappropriation), predictive coding presents a new One Ring to Rule Them All, ensuring the capture of the greatest amount of relevant and responsive materials while still conserving costs.  At the very least, it presents a viable alternative to the Model Orders' presumption of keyword searching.

Unfortunately, at the time the Fellowship's Model Orders were written a year ago, predictive coding, like Strider, the Ranger of the North, had still not quite revealed itself as an Aragorn, a potential heir to the throne. If the Orders had come out today, perhaps they would have accounted for alternate methodologies. Today's Seventh Circuit E-Discovery Pilot Program, for example, is seriously considering the merits and pitfalls of various search methodologies, including predictive coding. Unfortunately, for now there remains a disconnect between the Model Orders and the growing acknowledgment of predictive coding among attorneys, their clients and the courts. Moreover, the best practices remain to be written, both for utilizing predictive coding and for choosing the best keyword searches under the Model Orders and otherwise. Thus, even if we could choose and carry One Ring to Rule Them All through the rocky terrain of patent litigation, the path on which to carry it remains unclear, much as it was for Frodo Baggins:

At last with an effort he spoke, and wondered to hear his own words, as if some other will was using his small voice. "I will take the Ring," he said, "though I do not know the way.”

"Because Something Must Be Done": The Dangers of Trying to Save E-Discovery Costs by Treating Data Like Paper

This article was published by Wendy Akbar and Bill Hamilton.

Remember the days before the computer, the typewriter, the printing press, and even carbon paper? The days when, to copy a book, one needed to sit down and re-write it by hand? Every letter of every word of every sentence-dappled paragraph, had to be painstakingly copied one by one. With all the technology available today, no publisher would ever consider copying a book by hand rather than re-printing a copy saved on the computer. To do so would be a waste of time -- a return to the Dark Ages.

When it comes to e-discovery, unfortunately, the Dark Ages still occasionally guest stars in modern-day electronically stored information (ESI) retrieval and production. The dangers of being such an e-discovery ostrich were most recently highlighted in Multiven, Inc. v. Cisco Systems, 2010 WL 2813618 (N.D. Cal. July 9, 2010). Plaintiff Multiven, along with the two counterclaim defendants, originally elected to undertake a manual review of the full set of voluminous ESI it possessed prior to production. Sound conscientious? Not exactly. It means they turned the clock back about 15 years (in e-discovery time, akin to 150 years) and:

(1) Refused to use an outside vendor to help organize ESI information;
(2) Refused to utilize any search terms to narrow the "giant mass" of data to be reviewed;
(3) Instead used approximately five attorneys for six months to a year, to manually review every unfiltered page of "that giant mass" for responsive documents.

Why? They wanted to save on cost, particularly the expense of hiring an outside vendor to help whittle down potentially responsive information. Perhaps they adopted a manual review for other strategic reasons. (Never mind, of course, the hourly billing rate of five attorneys doing eight hours of document review five days a week for over six months, which more likely than not was more expensive than hiring a vendor to narrow the "giant mass" to a more reasonable review load for the attorneys).   The end result, however, was not exactly what was intended . . .
 

What sounded like a Great Idea to Multiven ultimately backfired. The process bogged everyone down, taking months and months. Finally, the district court became distressed when it became apparent that the delays associated with the manual review of all electronic files was causing the case to extend well beyond the boundaries of the scheduling order:

[I]t has become clear to this Court that [the plaintiff and counterdefendants] cannot complete their review and production of documents with enough time before the close of discovery to allow Cisco time to actually do anything with them. [They] so far have insisted on a review process that guarantees that they will not finish this extensive project in any reasonable amount of time.

Id. at *2. The trial court thus adopted the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Lloyd, required Multiven to utilize a vendor to assist in e-discovery, and appointed a Special Master to manage certain e-discovery disputes that potentially threatened to derail the litigation. In short, the Court concluded (id. (emphasis added)):

Because something must be done, this Court recommends that the District Court order the parties to promptly retain a third party vendor to assist with this increasingly perilous situation.

So first, Multiven was not only stuck having to hire the very vendor it had hoped to avoid, but on top of it had to pay its attorneys the hundreds of thousands it cost to conduct the months of document review that were done to avoid hiring a vendor in the first place. Instead of saving money, their gamble multiplied the cost of e-discovery in the case. Second, by this point, even Multiven was so fed up with the document review process that it was amenable to hiring a vendor before the court order even issued. Sure, part of it was because the defendant, Cisco, had offered to pay for part of the vendor cost, but Multiven had finally learned that it was in over it head, and that in trying to save money, it had wound up spending significant more cost on e-discovery.

While the Court's intervention was necessary to get the case back on track, one wonders what possessed the Multiven and its counsel to undertake a prolonged manual review, especially when Cisco appeared to be urging Multiven to employ modern technology all along. Delay was only one by-product of Multiven's decision. A second by-product was the likely extraordinary costs such manual reviews entail. The most substantial e-discovery costs arise from the attorney review process, regardless of whether that review is done internally by firm lawyers or outsourced to vendors in the United States or abroad.

One might think that a manual review is the "gold standard" and the most thorough, comprehensive way of searching. In other words, while you can place fistfuls of hay at a time into a hay-sorter to separate out those few stray needles, there's still a margin of error. You're more likely to find them if you use the time-consuming method of picking up one strand at a time and eyeballing it. Right? Oddly, no. In truth, the so-called gold standard of manual review is mythological, and the human eye can miss a lot more than a well-crafted keyword search protocol can capture. A widely-regarded study, Blair et al., Wittgenstein, 'Language and Information:  Back to the Rough Ground!' 302 (2006), found that manual review teams only found 20% of the relevant documents!  Ralph Losey and Jason Baron have also demonstrated that adding conceptual search tools to key-word searching further improves results and reduces cost. So Multiven's Dark Ages strategy not only multiplied costs and delayed the proceedings, but likely would have missed most of the relevant documents -- leading to potential sanctions and do-overs. Some cost-saving strategy!

In truth, there are very limited circumstances in which a case or production might require every e-document to be reviewed: the all-consuming, unfiltered, manual document review is dead, and for good reason. Today's staggering volume of ESI makes such a manual review both cost and time prohibitive. Utilizing the broad array of tools to cull down, de-duplicate and search data volumes is generally accepted and is even becoming mandated practice, as Multiven learned too late. While all searches are not created equal, the Text REtrieval Conference (TREC) Project -- co-sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and U.S. Department of Defense-- has demonstrated a better search results by machines than plowing through data manually. While a search methodology utilized by a party has to be defensible, standards are slowly emerging, as documented by The Sedona Conference® in its May 2009 Commentary on Achieving Quality in the E-Discovery Process: Best Practices for Document Retention and Production. There is no reason to be stuck in the Dark Ages of linear, manual review.