A witness accused of selling his testimony to Sony Corp. in an ugly, mudslinging mess of a patent fight is suing Sony's lawyers for malpractice and fraud.
Craig Thorner was the key witness in the Sony legal team's effort to overturn an $82 million patent infringement verdict in a case against Immersion Corp. over vibrating video game controllers. Sony claimed that Immersion paid Thorner to keep quiet about inventions of his that could have invalidated Immersion's patents.
But U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken wouldn't retry the case, concluding in 2006 that Thorner was an unreliable witness and that there was strong evidence -- supported by testimony and internal Sony documents -- that Sony paid $150,000 for Thorner's testimony.
The patent fight between Silicon Valley's Immersion and Sony, and its salacious post-trial motions, were followed closely by local lawyers.
In a wide-ranging suit filed Tuesday in New Jersey District Court, Thorner accuses Sony's outside and in-house lawyers of snookering him into the $150,000 deal, which came in the form of convoluted agreement to license his patents. He also accuses Sony's outside counsel -- Gregory Gewirtz of New Jersey firm Lerner David Littenberg Krumholz & Mentlik -- of malpractice for allegedly acting as his lawyer in the deal, but for Sony's benefit.
The lawsuit claims that the lawyers "contrived to take advantage of Thorner's inexperience and lack of resources in order to (i) obtain a patent license from Thorner on extremely favorable terms, and (ii) induce Thorner to testify against Immersion."
Reached Thursday afternoon, Gewirtz denied the allegations.
"In my view, all the allegations against me and my firm are reckless and false and all, of course, denied," he said. "We will very vigorously defend against all the claims."
The way the deal at issue worked, according to the lawsuit, was this: Electro Source -- a video game company also being sued by Immersion -- would pay Thorner $150,000 to license his patents. The deal, however, was actually being funded by Sony, which in turn got a license from Electro Source according to the lawsuit and court hearing transcripts.
Thorner claims that Gewirtz agreed to be his lawyer in the negotiations with Electro Source, but was actually looking out for Sony's interest.
Gewirtz said Thursday he was never Thorner's lawyer in the licensing deal.
"Any of those statements that implied in any shape or form that we represented him in his dealings with Electro Source or any other matter outside of working with him as witness in the Rule 60 proceeding are false," Gewirtz said.
Thorner also targets Electro Source's lawyers from Los Angeles' Russ August & Kabat in his complaint for fraud and negligent misrepresentation.
"I'm puzzled about how we were named in the case because we never represented Mr. Thorner," said partner Larry Russ. "He was an adverse party, so it's hard to see how the attorneys owe Mr. Thorner any duty."
Riley Russell, a Sony in-house lawyer whom the lawsuit accuses of authorizing Sony's secret funding of the deal, was out of the country and couldn't be reached for comment.
Aside from the attorney misconduct, Thorner also is accusing Sony and Electro Source of patent infringement. Neither company responded to requests for comment.
The suit was filed by Glen Diehl, a patent lawyer with Diehl Servilla in New Jersey. Diehl declined to comment.
In the underlying case, Immersion was represented by Irell & Manella. Sony was originally represented by Weil, Gotshal & Manges, but turned to Lerner David Littenberg Krumholz & Mentlik for the appeal and in its attempt to reopen the case with Thorner's testimony.