Helpful Forms

Indigent couples that need a lawyer’s help with a simple divorce would be out of luck at Houston Volunteer Lawyers (HVL) without the new pro se divorce forms that the Texas Supreme Court approved last fall. Resources are so scarce at HVL, a service of the Houston Bar Association, that this year the organization decided it would only provide volunteer attorneys for people with complex divorces involving children or property, says executive director Alissa Rubin Gomez. But on March 21, the organization held its first legal clinic using the new divorce forms, which are for uncontested divorces with no children or real property. Gomez notes, "The idea came from the forms: How can we utilize this to help this sector of people?" HVL coordinated appointments with clients who are eligible to use the forms. Thirty volunteer lawyers from Exxon Mobil Corp. each spent an hour with each client to help complete the forms and give instructions on using the forms in court, explains Gomez. An HVL staff attorney who practices family law trained the Exxon Mobil Corp. attorneys about the forms before the clinic, she adds. "I think the lawyers, I presume, feel they are able to provide a pretty comprehensive service and know at the end of the hour-long appointment, they have given them [clients] what they need," says Gomez.

En Banc Review of Cybor

There’s good news for patent litigators who’d like to see the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit revisit a seminal claims-construction decision: Earlier this month, the court granted en banc review in a case filed by a Texas litigant that has mounted an attack on Cybor Corp. v. FAS Technologies. Cybor is a 15-year-old decision from the Federal Circuit that allows the appellate court to engage in de novo review of a trial court’s crucial claims-construction decision. Claims-construction decisions are critical to any patent infringement complaint, because the trial judge determines the appropriate meaning of key words in a patent claim. The plaintiff in Lighting Ballast Control v. Universal Technologies filed the motion for en banc review after a federal judge in the Northern District of Texas handed Lighting Ballast a victory on claims construction, the jury issued an infringement finding on the company’s behalf, but the appeals court reversed because of claims-construction errors. Lighting Ballast’s motion seeking en banc review called for the appellate court to overrule Cybor, and nearly a dozen amici from all over the country signed briefs in support of Lighting Ballast’s motion. In a per curiam order, the Federal Circuit vacated its Jan. 2 decision in Lighting Ballast and asked the parties in the case to brief whether the court should overrule Cybor. The court also "invites the views of the United States Patent and Trademark Office as amicus curiae" in the case. An oral argument for the case will be set at a later time, the order states. "I think it’s exciting, and I think it’s the right thing to do," says David Skeels, a partner in Fort Worth’s Friedman Suder & Cooke, who represented Lighting Ballast at trial along with his law partner Jon Suder. "This is a big issue. And district courts are going to take note of this," says Suder, who says Cybor frustrates trial judges who "do all of this work" only to have their factual decisions on claims construction reversed. Suder believes those decisions should only be reversed on questions of law. "I think federal judges will appreciate us championing their cause," he says. Steven Routh, a partner in Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe who represents Universal Lighting Technologies, did not immediately return a call for comment.