For lawyers on both sides of the infamous trade secrets case brought by Jasmine Networks Inc. against Marvell Semiconductor Inc., which might actually reach a jury this week, plenty is at stake.
The case has already featured nine years of trench warfare, including two trips to California's 6th District Court of Appeal, one over an eleventh-hour dismissal that was later reversed.
Jasmine's key evidence -- which will be laid out this week in opening statements in Santa Clara County Superior Court -- is as sexy as it was when the bankrupt company filed its suit in September 2001: a damning voice mail accidentally left by Marvell's former general counsel. He had called a Jasmine in-house lawyer and had meant to hang up, but allegedly continued to talk with two colleagues on speakerphone about stealing trade secrets from Jasmine.
Jasmine, represented by San Francisco's McGrane Greenfield, contends that Marvell abused a nondisclosure agreement to rip off valuable intellectual property. Jasmine says it lost business worth $80 million to $100 million.
Marvell's lawyers, led by Latham & Watkins partner Steven Bauer, argue Jasmine's "alleged" trade secrets are based on stolen technology that Jasmine tried to pass off to Marvell as its own.
"The truth is that Jasmine was a failed start-up founded at the tail end of the technology boom of the late 1990s," Bauer wrote in Marvell's trial brief. "In its short life, it never completed a product, did not obtain a single patent, and earned not a penny of revenue."
In 2009, Bauer and his team at Latham & Watkins had successfully persuaded Judge Thomas Edwards to throw out the long-running trade secrets case because Jasmine had sold the intellectual property at issue and no longer had standing to sue. But six months later, the 6th District gutted Marvell's argument and reinstated the case.
Both sides have also fought a tortuous campaign over whether a jury should hear the voice mail evidence. In 2004, the 6th District overturned a trial court ruling that the voice mail should be excluded from evidence. In 2009, Marvell tried to impeach the evidence by contending the voice mail had been edited.
Going into the current trial, which opened in front of Judge William Elving with motions in limine last week, the voice mail is in.
And Jasmine's lawyers certainly weren't downplaying the scope of the clash.
"The absolute wonder of this case is why an obviously guilty defendant such as Marvell would be so anxious to force a trial and thereby drain valuable judicial resources," William McGrane pontificated in his trial brief. "But like the harsh sentencing a criminal defendant who tries the system and loses can usually expect, a day of reckoning is also waiting here for Marvell. A day of reckoning that can no longer be avoided by launching battalion after battalion of lawyers against Jasmine on a never-ending basis. Instead, David is fully armed, waiting only for Goliath to appear and then, at long last truly join combat with him."
A number of law firms have touched the case. Before Latham, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges had worked on it for Marvell from October 2008 until late January 2009, when it was disqualified for a conflict. Before that, Marvell had used Buchalter Nemer and, briefly, Fenwick & West.