How do federal judges—generalists who have to answer close-call questions on a wide array of legal topics—deal with the challenge of getting up to speed on the complex technology underlying intellectual property disputes?

The answers vary from judge to judge. But as jurists have gotten more comfortable weighing in on questions of patent law, some are taking time to delve deeper into the technologies themselves. For instance, U.S. District Judge James Donato of the Northern District of California has begun asking for inventors or technologists to make presentations at technology tutorials rather than lawyers, a move aimed at getting unvarnished answers rather than advocacy as he gets up to speed on a given subject.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup, Northern District of California
U.S. District Judge William Alsup
More recently, in an attention-grabbing suit over driverless car technology, Donato’s Northern District colleague William Alsup asked lawyers for Waymo LLC, the autonomous-car subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., and Uber Technologies Inc. to each identify a single “book, treatise, article or other reference publicly available” about the laser-based scanning and mapping technology known as LiDAR underlying their dispute.

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