Gamevice, Inc. v. Nintendo Co., Ltd. et al

Filing 90

Discovery Order. Signed by Judge Thomas S. Hixson on 8/23/2019. (tshlc2S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 8/23/2019)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 GAMEVICE, INC., Plaintiff, 8 Re: Dkt. No. 86 NINTENDO CO., LTD., et al., Defendants. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California DISCOVERY ORDER v. 9 10 Case No. 18-cv-01942-RS (TSH) 12 Nintendo and Gamevice have submitted a joint discovery letter brief in which Nintendo 13 14 moves to compel regarding its requests for admission (“RFAs”) Nos. 1-24 and interrogatories Nos. 15 13-15. ECF No. 86. The Court held a telephonic hearing, and this order follows. 16 A. RFAs 17 Gamevice’s responses to the RFAs consist solely of objections, so the only question before 18 the Court is whether the RFAs should be answered. Each RFA asks for an admission concerning a 19 very specific subject, and the requested admission concerns multiple devices. For example, RFA 20 11 asks Gamevice to “[a]dmit that each of the Gamevice Accessories is a gaming device.” If 21 Gamevice thinks that some of its accessories are gaming devices and others are not, its answer 22 would presumably be an admission as to some and a denial as to others. Similarly, RFA 10 asks 23 Gamevice to “[a]dmit that the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 7 Plus each have a display section with a 24 screen 5 inches or larger.” If there is really a dispute about how big an iPhone Plus screen size is, 25 and if Gamevice really thinks the answer differs for the 6 or the 7, then this RFA might require a 26 partial admission or denial. 27 28 Some of the RFAs are more complicated, even though they follow the same structure. Gamevice highlights RFA 5 as an example. It asks Gamevice to “[a]dmit that the keytop of each 1 of the ‘shoulder buttons’ and ‘trigger buttons’ on the GV157, GV157A, GV167, GV169, and 2 GV189 rotates about a point provided at a position at an end of the keytop further from the 3 horizontal center of the device.” It asks Gamevice to admit that five of its devices have this 4 feature in common. 5 Gamevice’s first objection to these RFAs is that they are compound and violate Judge 6 Seeborg’s order that each side is limited to 45 RFAs (other than for authentication purposes). See 7 ECF No. 42. Gamevice’s theory is that if you ask someone to admit something about multiple 8 things, then you’ve asked a number of RFAs equal to the number of things. For example, if you 9 ask someone to admit that his computers are password-protected, and he owns five computers, that would be five RFAs. Or if you ask Toyota to admit that every car it sold last year had four 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 wheels, you’ve asked 9.6 million RFAs. 12 The Court disagrees. Asking whether a group of things all have the same characteristic is a 13 question about similarity. It’s true that the question requires an answer as to each thing, but the 14 essence of the question is whether there is a point of commonality among the things. This is a 15 good use of RFAs, which are designed to remove issues from contention if they are not really in 16 dispute. See Asea, Inc. v. Southern Pac. Transp. Co., 669 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1981) (“The 17 purpose of Rule 36(a) is to expedite trial by establishing certain material facts as true and thus 18 narrowing the range of issues for trial.”). For example, RFA 18 asks Gamevice to “[a]dmit that 19 each of GV140, GV141, GV150, GV156, GV157, GV160, GV161, have not been certified under 20 Apple’s MFi program.” Presumably, Gamevice knows which of its devices have been certified 21 under Apple’s MFi program, and in one swoop this RFA seeks to determine if certification is a 22 contested issue in this lawsuit. A response to this RFA just tells Nintendo whether or not there is a 23 fight about that point. All of these RFAs have this quality that an admission would simply remove 24 issues from dispute. 25 These RFAs are consistent with Rule 36, which states that “when good faith requires that a 26 party qualify an answer or deny only a part of a matter, the answer must specify the part admitted 27 and qualify or deny the rest.” Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 36(a)(4). This rule contemplates that the 28 “matter” that is the subject of the RFA may have “part[s]” to it, which is inconsistent with 2 1 Gamevice’s argument that an RFA can only ask one specific question about one specific item. See 2 Pecover v. Electronic Arts, Inc., 2012 WL 12921363, *4 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 23, 2012) (“plaintiffs’ 3 objection that the requests are ‘compound’ is unpersuasive, because Rule 36 allows responding 4 parties to ‘qualify an answer or deny only a part of a matter’ as long as the answer specifies the 5 part admitted and qualifies or denies the rest”). As the Ninth Circuit has explained, responding 6 parties “should admit to the fullest extent possible, and explain in detail why other portions of a 7 request may not be admitted.” Marchland v. Mercy Medical Center, 22 F.3d 933, 938 (9th Cir. 8 1994) (emphasis added). 9 There are some cases stating that RFAs should not ask compound questions. See, e.g., U.S. ex rel. Englund v. Los Angeles County, 235 F.R.D. 675, 684 (E.D. Cal. 2006) (“Requests for 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 admissions may not contain compound, conjunctive, or disjunctive (e.g., ‘and/or’) statements.”); 12 Laryngeal Mask Co. Ltd. v. Ambu A/S, 2009 WL 9530359 (S.D. Cal. Sept. 23, 2009) (“Requests 13 for Admissions are required to be simple and direct, and should be limited to singular relevant 14 facts”) (citation and quotation marks omitted). Further, where the Court has set a limit on RFAs, 15 as is the case here, that limit must be enforced. 16 Here, Nintendo’s RFAs do not flout Judge Seeborg’s limit on their number. Each RFA 17 asks for an admission on a narrow, specific subject. The fact that they seek admissions as to 18 multiple products does not render them compound. A litigant can ask an opponent to “admit the 19 eggs you sold me were rotten,” and that’s one RFA, not a dozen. The RFAs do not group 20 unrelated subjects together or ask for multiple pieces of information in a way that would suggest 21 an attempt to get around the limit of 45. 22 Next, Gamevice argues that the RFAs are vague and ambiguous because they use technical 23 language. However, in this patent infringement case about technology, that objection is 24 impossible to take seriously. The parties of course understand technical terms. Some of the terms 25 come straight out of the asserted patents, and Gamevice can answer the RFAs based on its 26 understanding of what the patent terms mean. Others, such as “Apple’s MFi program,” have 27 meanings that are obvious to these sophisticated litigants, even if the average person on the street 28 might find them unclear. 3 The Court GRANTS Nintendo’s motion to compel responses to the RFAs and ORDERS 1 2 Gamevice to answer them within 30 days. 3 B. Interrogatories 13-15 Interrogatory 13 asks Gamevice: to the extent it contends that differences between its iOS 5 compatible products are material to the question of infringement of any Nintendo patent, what are 6 those differences and how are they material? Interrogatory 14 asks the same about the Android 7 compatible products. Interrogatory 15 asks the same question about differences between the iOS 8 and Android compatible products. Gamevice asserted a number of objections to each 9 interrogatory. It then purported to answer each interrogatory (“Subject to and without waiving any 10 of their general and specific objections, Gamevice responds as follows…”), but what followed was 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 4 just another paragraph arguing that the interrogatory was improper. 12 The relevance of these interrogatories is clear. Nintendo is trying to establish that the 13 differences between the accused products are not material to whether they infringe Nintendo’s 14 patents. To use a non-patent analogy, imagine a book seller who sells bootleg copies of Harry 15 Potter novels without a license to do so – some of the copies are in large print, some in paperback, 16 others are for digital reading devices, and so on. An analogous interrogatory would ask the book 17 seller to confirm that the different formats of the books are not material to whether they infringe. 18 That’s what Nintendo is trying to get at here. 19 Gamevice argues that these interrogatories violate Judge Seeborg’s order that each side 20 may have 35 interrogatories “including all discrete subparts.” ECF No. 42. Gamevice argues that 21 these interrogatories contain numerous discrete subparts because they seek information about 22 multiple different products and about multiple different patents. 23 The Court disagrees. It is true that an interrogatory that asks for information about each 24 accused device can impliedly amount to more than one interrogatory, depending on the question 25 asked. See, e.g., Rambus Inc. v. NVIDIA Corp., 2011 WL 11746749, *14 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 24, 26 2011); Collaboration Properties, Inc. v. Polycom, Inc., 224 F.R.D. 473, 475 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 13, 27 2004). But these interrogatories aren’t like that. They are asking a foundational question that has 28 the potential to greatly simplify this case: “Do you contend that the differences between these 4 1 products actually matter?” The desired answer isn’t pages and pages of responses but four words: 2 “We don’t contend that.” And if that isn’t the answer – if Gamevice thinks the infringement 3 analysis really does differ by particular product – it is obligated to disclose that in discovery. Each 4 of these interrogatories isn’t asking Gamevice lots of questions with discrete subparts. It’s asking 5 one question, an important question that Gamevice should answer. 6 Gamevice next argues that these interrogatories are unduly burdensome and an attempt to 7 shift the burden of proof regarding a representative approach to infringement. As to the latter 8 point, the fact that Nintendo will have the burden of proof at trial to show that Gamevice infringed 9 its patents just has nothing to do with discovery. Nintendo does not have to prove its case to be entitled to take discovery – that gets litigation backwards. Nintendo can ask in discovery if 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 Gamevice contends that any differences in its products matter for infringement purposes, and 12 requiring Gamevice to answer does not shift the burden of proof. 13 As to burden, Gamevice’s response to interrogatory 8 – which asks for each asserted claim 14 in Nintendo’s patents Gamevice’s contentions concerning why it does not infringe – suggests there 15 isn’t much burden. Most of Gamevice’s answer to interrogatory 8 refers to “Gamevice’s accused 16 products” together, without differentiating between them. Sometimes the answer does refer to 17 specific products, but when it does so it identifies features of those products and states why they 18 mean the product does not infringe. Gamevice’s response to interrogatory 8 therefore implies that 19 its responses to interrogatories 13-15 will in large part state that Gamevice does not contend that 20 differences in the products are material to infringement, but in some instances it will say that some 21 differences matter. Frankly, the information requested by interrogatories 13-15 is entirely 22 subsumed by interrogatory 8, which Gamevice claims it has already answered, so the Court is 23 unable to see the additional burden in answering these interrogatories. After all, if Gamevice 24 contends that differences in its products are material to the question of infringement, then it should 25 have mentioned those differences when it set forth its noninfringement contentions in response to 26 interrogatory 8 (and, as noted, sometimes it did). Accordingly, Gamevice’s burden argument 27 lacks merit. 28 The Court GRANTS Nintendo’s motion to compel responses to these interrogatories and 5 1 ORDERS Gamevice to answer them within 30 days. 2 3 IT IS SO ORDERED. 4 5 Dated: August 23, 2019 6 THOMAS S. HIXSON United States Magistrate Judge 7 8 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 6

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