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Altova GmbH v. Syncro Soft SRL

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 26, 2018

ALTOVA GMBH and ALTOVA, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
SYNCRO SOFT SRL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Patti B. Saris Chief United States District Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         This case involves a patent dispute between Altova GmbH and Altova, Inc. (collectively, “Altova”), and Syncro Soft SRL (“Syncro Soft”), direct competitors in the market for extensible markup language (“XML”)[1] editor software. The patent at issue, owned by Altova, concerns an automatic fix feature for errors in XML coding.

         Syncro Soft has moved to disqualify its former law firm Sunstein Kann Murphy & Timbers LLP (“Sunstein”) from representing Altova, based on Sunstein's representation of Syncro Soft. The Court has stayed the proceedings pending resolution of the inter partes review of the patent at issue, but the parties have asked the Court to decide the motion to disqualify counsel at this time. After hearing, the Court ALLOWS the motion to disqualify Sunstein (Docket No. 20).

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         I. The Patent and Accused Product

         Altova and Syncro Soft both sell XML editor software, which helps software and website developers with data management, data integration, and writing programs. Docket No. 39 at 11, 13-14. The patent at issue is U.S. Patent No. 9, 501, 456 (“the '456 Patent”), which is owned by Altova GmbH. Docket No. 12 ¶ 8. The '456 Patent is entitled “AUTOMATIC FIX FOR EXTENSIBLE MARKUP LANGUAGE ERRORS, ” and is directed to “[m]ethods and apparatus, including computer program products, for an automatic fix for [XML] errors.” '456 Patent, at [54], [57]. The patent application was filed on March 15, 2013, and the patent issued on November 22, 2016. '456 Patent, at [22], [45].

         The accused product is version 19.0 of Syncro Soft's OXYGEN XML Editor software, which includes a feature called “Quick Fix.” See Docket No. 12 ¶ 15. Altova alleges that the Quick Fix feature “helps [users] resolve errors that appear in an XML document by offering Quick Fixes to problems such as missing required attributes or invalid elements.” Docket No. 12 ¶ 15. Altova maintains that, via the Quick Fix function, Syncro Soft directly and indirectly infringes at least Claim 1 of the '456 Patent. Docket No. 12 ¶¶ 11-12.

         II. Legal Representation Timeline

         A. Syncro Soft's 2004 Trademark Dispute with Oxygen Media LLC

         In October 2004, Syncro Soft received a cease and desist letter from Oxygen Media LLC, which accused Syncro Soft's OXYGEN XML Editor software of trademark infringement and dilution. Docket No. 21 ¶ 2. Syncro Soft sought legal counsel to respond to the cease and desist letter. Docket No. 21 ¶ 2. Lee Carl Bromberg of Bromberg Sunstein LLP, the firm that would later become Sunstein, first agreed to represent Syncro Soft in connection with this matter in early November 2004. Docket No. 21-1 at 2.

         The 2004 engagement letter specified that Syncro Soft was granting the law firm “power of attorney to execute on [Syncro Soft's] behalf all documents relating to the matters for which [the firm has] been retained.” Docket No. 21-1 at 2. The letter also included a paragraph regarding possible future conflicts of interest. It read:

Occasionally, because of ethical considerations, attorneys are required to withdraw from the representation of clients. While we do not anticipate having to withdraw from your representation, you should be aware that because our firm represents a large number of clients, there is always a possibility that a conflict of interest might develop which would force us to cease representing you. However, we would only do so upon reasonable notice.

Docket No. 21-1 at 3. Stefan Vasile, Syncro Soft's Chief Executive Officer, executed the agreement on November 2, 2004. Docket No. 21-1 at 5. The dispute with Oxygen Media LLC was resolved to Syncro Soft's satisfaction ...


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