Law360 (September 3, 2020, 7:55 PM EDT) -- A Delaware federal judge has agreed to delay an October patent trial between Sprint and cable giant Charter Communications Inc. over broadband phone call technology, saying the coronavirus pandemic and a pile of pending motions make that date impossible.
Sprint Communications Co. LP is suing Charter and two affiliates over Sprint's claims that patents it owns cover VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, the technology underlying internet phone calls, like those made via Skype or WhatsApp.
The showdown will have to wait, U.S. District Judge Richard Andrews ruled Wednesday.
"The trial involves witnesses and lawyers coming from all over the United States, including at least CA, CO, DC, FL, IL, NJ, NY, MA, MO, and TX," the judge said.
Judge Andrews said he would limit attendance to two lawyers per side in early October, which Charter had fought. It told the judge recently that a limit of even six people from its camp in the courtroom would be "unduly prejudicial," the judge noted.
But the judge added that, with at least nine pending motions and fewer than five weeks left, "This case is not going to be ready for trial on October 5, 2020, even if conditions in Delaware and the rest of the country permit all the necessary travel without undue risk."
The judge gave no indication Wednesday of when the trial might be reset.
Both sides have summary judgment motions pending. Sprint is arguing that it's already made and won the exact same legal arguments in a previous case against another company, Time Warner Cable.
Sprint convinced a federal jury in 2017 that Time Warner Cable owed it $140 million. That outcome was upheld by the Federal Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review it.
Charter acquired Time Warner in 2016.
VoIP is one type of voice-over-packet protocol, and by far the most widely used. There is another type of voice-over-packet protocol called ATM. Charter said Sprint's patents apply only to ATM-related technology. Sprint has said its patents use the word "broadband" and don't limit themselves by naming a protocol.
Charter has argued in its own pending summary judgment motion that Sprint is trying to unfairly expand the protection of the patents.
The Delaware court ruled in a Markman, or claim construction, hearing that a phrase in Sprint's patents, "interworking unit," was limited to the ATM protocol, Charter has said. But it claims Sprint is newly asserting the doctrine of equivalents to get around that.
Last year, the Delaware federal court gave the green light for Charter to pursue claims that Sprint misled patent officials while obtaining the patents in question. But the court didn't agree that Sprint's efforts to enforce their patents violated antitrust law.
Sprint has been going to court to enforce the patents for years. A 2005 suit against Vonage ended with a nearly $70 million verdict in Sprint's favor for some of the same patents covered in the Time Warner verdict. They reached a post-verdict settlement that wound up with Sprint taking $80 million.
Related cases against Broadvox Holdings LLC, Paetec Holding Corp. and Cable One Inc. ended in 2008, 2009 and 2016, respectively, with joint stipulations for dismissal filed by Sprint.
Sprint merged with T-Mobile earlier this year.
There have been at least 11 patents asserted in the Spectrum suit, which are in groups: U.S. Patent Nos. 6,452,932, 6,463,052, 6,633,561, 7,286,561 and 7,505,454; U.S. Patent Nos. 6,343,084, 6,472,429, 6,298,064 and 7,327,728; and U.S. Patent Nos. 6,330,224 and 6,697,340.
Representatives for Sprint and Charter were not immediately available for comment.
Sprint is represented by Stephen Kraftschik and Christina Vavala of Polsinelli PC and B. Trent Webb, Ryan Schletzbaum, Ryan Dykal, John Garretson, Jordan Bergsten, Aaron Hankel, Lauren Douville, Mark Schafer, Maxwell McGraw, Samuel LaRoque, Thomas Patton, Lydia Raw, Robert Reckers, Michael Gray and Jonathan Hernandez of Shook Hardy & Bacon LLP.
Charter is represented by Kelly Farnan and Valerie Caras of Richards Layton & Finger PA, David Benyacar and Daniel Reisner of Arnold & Porter, and Gregory Arovas, Jeanne Heffernan, Ryan Kane, Luke Dauchot and Bao Nguyen of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
The case is Sprint Communications Co. LP v. Charter Communications, Inc. et al., case number 1:17-cv-01734, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.
--Additional reporting by Julia Arciga and Tiffany Hu. Editing by Haylee Pearl.
For a reprint of this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.