What happened to Qualcomm wasn’t the first case of e-discovery gone wrong — but it might have been the most incredible. For months leading up to a January 2007 patent infringement trial, two California-based technology companies, Qualcomm Inc. and Broadcom Corp., had been locked in a nasty battle over document production. At issue was whether Qualcomm had participated in an industry group, called the Joint Video Team (JVT), that had been working on a new standard for digital video compression — and whether there were any e-mails, memos or other correspondence that said so.

It was a make-or-break point for each side. If Qualcomm had participated in the group before the standard, known as H.264, was released in May 2003, it would not be able to sue Broadcom. Why? Companies that were involved with the JVT had a duty to disclose any patents that covered the H.264 technology. If they participated and kept quiet, they’d be barred from suing for infringement — as Qualcomm was now doing on two of its video compression patents — down the road.

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