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Shelley Wessels leaned against a warehouse wall, watching intently as one of her accomplices picked the door locks. After several minutes the bolt finally clicked free, and Wessels and her team stormed the building in Livermore, California. Their mission: to find and seize a treasure trove of counterfeit circuit boards. Wessels, a partner at Fish & Richardson’s office in Menlo Park, California, had been hired by Adaptec Inc. to track down phony versions of its circuit boards and get them off the market. Like a master thief in a Hollywood heist film, she had assembled a crackerjack crew for the operation. A locksmith, two computer experts, a pair of private investigators, a couple of U.S. marshals and a crew of legal assistants joined Wessels on the Livermore job. “I thought to myself, ‘I can’t believe I’m here doing this,’” recalled Wessels. “It’s so different than what we normally do.” Detective work for intellectual property lawyers usually consists of taking depositions and poring over hundreds of thousands of documents. When a counterfeit case does come along, litigators don’t often conduct a seizure. For one thing it’s difficult to get a warrant since lawyers must be able to convince a judge they’re likely to find evidence of counterfeiting at the site. Wessels had conducted one previous seizure operation, also for Adaptec, in a previous case, and had not expected to get a shot at another. This time around, Wessels and her crew hit the jackpot. Several circuit boards were laid out on tables and a couple of thousand more were piled in boxes throughout the warehouse. The team spent the day labeling the goods and going through file cabinets and computer hard drives, taking photographs and videotaping the search. Then they loaded the counterfeit merchandise onto a truck and hauled it away. It was one of six sites Wessels and her colleagues searched that day in October 2000. Associate Katherine Horvath led a mission in Denver that garnered about 10 boards, while the others took place in California. The captured goods nailed the case for Wessels. Last November, a jury in San Jose federal court found one of the distributors guilty of trademark and copyright infringement and false designation of origin. “They’d given us no discovery,” said Wessels. “We put together a case based on what we found in the seizures.” Adaptec learned that counterfeit versions of its SCSI (known as “scuzzy”) boards were on the market after customers called in complaining of defective purchases. Many of the boards either had no serial numbers or phony ones. For Adaptec, the counterfeit operation meant a loss of millions of dollars in sales and a potential blow to its reputation. The boards, which transfer data between a computer and peripheral components, retail for $200 to $300 each. Wessels found about 20 individuals and companies distributing phony boards. Most settled or defaulted out of the case, leaving only one defendant who opted for a trial. While the seizure operation provided some dramatic moments — U.S. marshals involved in the Denver sweep had Horvath hide behind a van while they secured the site and confiscated a gun — Wessels said the trial was memorable in its own right. In response to Wessels’ request for an expedited jury trial, U.S. District Judge James Ware ordered each side to present its case in four hours. Ware had granted summary judgment that the seized circuit boards were counterfeit, so the jury had only to decide if the defendant, Jun Liang, vice president of Unisun Inc., was liable. Liang, who lives in Beijing, claimed she wasn’t working at the company when it sold the phony Adaptec boards. But Wessels had a smoking gun — a notebook in which Liang had scribbled the words “fake,” “counterfeit” and “no S/N,” for no serial number. “We marched her through this notebook and established the dates in which she made entries,” said Wessels. “She would volunteer excuses that made her look worse.” Despite the jury verdict, Liang’s attorney, Daniel Mason, a partner at San Francisco’s Zelle, Hofmann, Voelbel, Mason & Gette, said the case was far from over. “Nothing is decided on damages, if there are any,” said Mason. If damages are assessed, Adaptec may have difficulty collecting, at least for a while. As far as Wessels can tell, Liang is no longer operating in the United States, which would complicate efforts to have her pay up. In the meantime, Wessels and her team are thrilled they shut down the counterfeit scam and had their day in the field. Says Wessels: “It’s a great war story case.”

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