Qualcomm lawyers reprimanded in Broadcom case

Judge fines Qualcomm $8.6 million for withholding thousands of documents pertaining to lawsuit against Broadcom

A federal judge took action against Qualcomm and six of its outside attorneys on Monday for hiding 46,000 documents in a lawsuit the company filed -- and lost -- against rival Broadcom.

Qualcomm sued Broadcom in 2005 alleging violation of two of its patents on video compression technology. The case was one of a string of patent fights between the Southern California communications chip companies, in which Qualcomm has often come out the loser.

Magistrate Judge Barbara Major of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, in San Diego, called Qualcomm's actions a "monumental and intentional discovery violation." She referred the attorneys to the State Bar of California for investigation of possible ethics violations and ordered Qualcomm to review its procedures and come up with a plan for collecting evidence in future court cases. She also ordered Qualcomm to pay Broadcom about $8.6 million but said that sum will be reduced by the amount Qualcomm is already paying in damages in the case.

"Qualcomm intentionally withheld tens of thousands of decisive documents from its opponent in an effort to win this case and gain a strategic business advantage over Broadcom," Major wrote in her decision.

Part of Broadcom's defense involved Qualcomm's involvement in a group that developed the H.264 video compression standard. Qualcomm argued it was not involved in that group, called the Joint Video Team. But the trial revealed that there were e-mail messages and other documents that linked Qualcomm to the group, Major wrote. Although Qualcomm's attorneys did find documents that supported or didn't hurt its own side in the case, they didn't find this evidence that hurt its argument, she wrote. The lawyers "used the lack of evidence to repeatedly and forcefully make false statements and arguments to the court and jury," Major wrote.

Qualcomm has never produced any evidence to explain or justify its not producing the documents, the ruling said.

"Qualcomm regrets the discovery errors that occurred in this case. However, as we pointed out in our brief to the appellate court, when Qualcomm discovered additional documents after the trial, it produced them and apologized to the court and Broadcom for the errors. These actions defy any suggestion that Qualcomm engaged in intentional misconduct. We are considering our options, including further appeal," Qualcomm said in a prepared statement.

Last October, after Broadcom sought sanctions against it for the violations, Qualcomm argued that it had failed to produce the documents because its legal team was disjointed and engineers at the company didn't understand technical standards-setting procedures.