Federal judge rebukes N.Y. firm for 'sloppiness' in UCLA patent case

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REUTERS/Chip East

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  • Pennsylvania court calls ruling "cautionary tale"
  • Harras Bloom & Archer argued sanctions pursuit by UCLA's lawyers was "utterly baseless"
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A federal judge on Thursday reprimanded lawyers at a New York law firm for "sloppiness" in their intellectual property case against the University of California, Los Angeles, and suggested "more experienced" patent lawyers should have been consulted in the litigation.

In a 15-page order, U.S. District Judge Joshua Wolson in Philadelphia criticized how Harras Bloom & Archer, a small real-estate focused firm based in Melville, New York, handled the case and said he hoped his ruling would serve as a "cautionary tale."

Wolson concluded that the Harras Bloom lawyers for plaintiff PeriRx Inc, a medical diagnostic company, "took on a complicated case about patent licensing, apparently without a background in patent law." Certain filings, he said, "were rambling and duplicative, and even at times internally inconsistent."

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Harras Bloom partner Linda Agnew told Reuters on Friday that "while I don't necessarily agree that a reprimand is appropriate, I have the utmost respect for Judge Wolson and will take his comments under advisement."

The judge's order followed a summary judgment ruling last month against PeriRx, which alleged breach of contract and other claims against defendants including the Regents of the University of California. PeriRx's lawsuit said the company was in discussion with a UCLA professor to jointly develop and commercialize saliva-based diagnostic products.

Wolson, a federal trial judge since 2018 who formerly was a commercial litigation partner at Dilworth Paxson, largely declined to impose sanctions, however, saying the court is "not a roving tribunal of professional ethics."

Agnew in November called the UCLA regents' push for sanctions "utterly baseless" and "nothing more than an aggressive litigation tactic designed to intimidate and harass PeriRx and its counsel." The firm said UCLA's attorneys were promoting a "narrative that has no basis in law or in fact."

In its filing seeking sanctions, the regents' lawyers argued "bad behavior by PeriRx and its counsel has been pervasive throughout this litigation" and the alleged misconduct "should not go unpunished."

A lawyer for UCLA, Dennis Butler of Philadelphia's Panitch Schwarze Belisario & Nadel, said the intellectual property boutique and its client "hope Judge Wolson's order will dissuade such conduct in future disputes."

The judge lamented broadly in his opening lines that the draw of a big case "can lead lawyers to make a number of mistakes. They take on cases without the requisite expertise," Wolson wrote. "They drink their clients' KoolAid and shift from advocate to acolyte. Or they cut corners to save money and litigate a case for as low a cost as possible."

The case is PeriRx Inc v. Regents of the University of California, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, No. 2:20-cv-02212.

For PeriRx: Linda Agnew of Harras Bloom & Archer

For Regents: Philip Hirschhorn and Dennis Butler of Panitch Schwarze Belisario & Nadel

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