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Tabaian v. Intel Corp.

United States District Court, D. Oregon

September 22, 2018

FEREYDUN TABAIAN and AHMAD ASHRAFZADEH, Plaintiffs,
v.
INTEL CORPORATION, Defendant. Jeffrey S. Love John D. Vandenburg Mark W. Wilson KLARQUIST SPARKMAN, LLP One World Trade Center 121 S.W. Salmon Street, Suite 1600 Portland, Oregon 97204 Howard L. Close Kathleen S. Rose Patrick B. McAndrew Ronald L. Flack, Jr.WRIGHT CLOSE & BARGER, LLP One Riverway, Suite 2200 Houston, Texas 77056 Attorneys for Plaintiffs

          Jeffrey S. Love John D. Vandenburg Mark W. Wilson KLARQUIST SPARKMAN, LLP

          Howard L. Close Kathleen S. Rose Patrick B. McAndrew Ronald L. Flack, Jr. WRIGHT CLOSE & BARGER, LLP Attorneys for Plaintiffs

          Renée E. Rothauge MARKOWITZ HERBOLD PC Michael J. Summersgill Jordan L. Hirsch WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE and DORR LLP Todd C. Zubler WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE and DORR LLP Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION

          MARCO A. HERNANDEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Fereydun Tabaian and Ahmad Ashrafzadeh are the inventors and owners of United States Patent No. 7, 027, 944 Patent ("the '944 Patent") which is titled '"Programmable Calibration Circuit and Power Supply Current Sensing and Droop Loss Compensation," and which issued on April 11, 2006. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 7, 8, ECF 1. The '944 Patent discloses a circuit for using calibration for precise voltage regulation. Id. ¶ 2. "The invention described in the patent provides circuits and methods for addressing voltage regulator current sensing variations, voltage droop, manufacturing variations, temperature dependencies, and mismatched phase outputs in a multiphase power regulator." Id. "The invention advantageously provides circuits and methods to properly power a computer processor or integrated circuit chip according to the unique power specifications of the processor or chip." Id.

         In their Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant developed its Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator (FIVR) technology with "full knowledge" of the '944 Patent invention, using the invention as one of FIVR's key components. Id. ¶ 4. Plaintiffs allege that the FIVR components of several processors made by Defendant infringe the '944 Patent. Id. ¶¶ 4, 5.

         On July 24, 2018, Defendant moved to disqualify Plaintiffs' expert Mike Walters. After completion of the motion briefing, I held a telephone oral argument on the motion on August 15, 2018. At the conclusion of that hearing, I granted the motion. See ECF 75 (Minutes of Aug. 15, 2018 motion hearing). This Opinion explains my reasoning.

         According to Jorge Rodriguez, a senior engineer employed by Defendant, Defendant manufactures microprocessors which are semiconductor integrated circuits for use in computers. Rodriguez Decl. ¶ 5, ECF 61. A microprocessor requires one or more voltage regulators in order to "convert the voltage from its power supply (such as an electrical outlet or battery) to a voltage that is useable by the microprocessor and that provides the electrical power required by the microprocessor in an efficient manner." Id. Starting in the late 1990s, Defendant developed the Intel Mobile Voltage Positioning (IMVP) technology which was "designed to create voltage regulators that reduce the amount of consumed power while providing greater processor performance." Id. ¶ 6. For nearly twenty years, Defendant has worked with third-party semiconductor suppliers to develop voltage regulators that work with Defendant's microprocessors. Id. Defendant's current voltage regulator technology, the FIVR that is at issue in the patent infringement claim, is, according to Rodriguez, an "outgrowth" of Defendant's prior IMVP work. Id. ¶ 19. Before 2013, Defendant's microprocessors typically required multiple IMVP voltage regulators, with each providing a specific voltage to a different part of the microprocessor such as its core or graphics unit. Id. But, starting in 2013, the FIVR technology "integrated the functionality of multiple IMVP regulators onto the microprocessor die, which Defendant manufactures." Id. Defendant's microprocessors with FIVR require only one external IMVP voltage regulator because the others have been integrated onto the die. Id. Therefore, according to Rodriguez, Defendant's FIVR technology performs many functions that voltage regulators previously provided by third-party suppliers performed, and FIVR "displaces these suppliers' products to a significant degree." Id.

         From 1999 to 2009, Walters worked for two third-party supplier companies, Intersil Corporation and International Rectifier Corporation, to "develop power specifications" and define voltage regulators for use with Defendant's microprocessors. Jaikumar July 24, 2018 Decl., Ex. 4, ECF 62-4 (Walters's resume showing work at Intersil from 1999-2003 as a "Power System Architect" which included work with "industry leaders" including Defendant to develop power specifications; showing work at International Rectifier Corp from 2003-09 as a "Portable Applications Manager"); id., Ex. 5, ECF 62-5 (July 6, 2018 email from Plaintiffs' counsel to Defendant's counsel explaining that Walters's role at both Intersil and International Rectifier "was to define integrated circuits (voltage regulation control) that their customers used to power server, desktop, and laptop computers using Intel processors"; noting that Walters worked with engineers in Defendant's vendor enabling groups from 1999 through 2009 and his principal contacts there were Jon Day for desktop/server products and Jorge Rodriguez for laptop products). Both corporations had non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with Defendant, protecting as confidential information provided by Defendant to those companies. Jaikumar July 24, 2018 Decl., Exs. 1, 2, 3, ECF 62-1, 62-2, 62-3.

         According to Rodriguez, over the last twenty years, Defendant has released multiple IMVP specifications, classified as "Intel Restricted Secret" documents which can be viewed by non-Intel parties only under the protection of an NDA. Rodriguez Decl. ¶ 7. Rodriguez states that the IMVP specifications released in those documents identify, in detail, information about Intel microprocessors and the technical requirements for voltage regulators that can work with Intel microprocessors. Id. As Rodriguez describes, Defendant provides these specifications to suppliers under NDAs and then works with the suppliers to develop voltage regulators that the suppliers will manufacture. Id. ¶ 8.

         Rodriguez states that Defendant provided Walters with many confidential IMVP-related documents during the years he worked in a confidential relationship with Defendant. Id. ¶ 10. All of the documents were provided under an NDA and pursuant to a specific "Confidential Information Transmittal Record for Restricted Secret Information" (CITR) that Walters was asked to sign. Id. Rodriguez states that during his years of work with Defendant, Walters received significant quantities of confidential information about Intel voltage regulator technology. Id. ¶ 11. According to Rodriguez, as a power supply architect at Intersil, Walters needed access to Defendant's IMVP specifications which are Intel Restricted Secret material, and Walters received copies of such documents. Id. These documents described Defendant's confidential designs for many aspects of voltage regulators, including how voltage was regulated, how current was regulated, the role of a reference voltage, and the use of temperature. Id. Attached to Rodriguez's Declaration are copies of email correspondence from Rodriguez to Walters in which Rodriguez personally sent Defendant's confidential information to Walters. Id. ¶ 12 & Exs. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; see also Id. ¶¶ 13-18 (describing date and content of communications and documents).

         Based on Walters's prior employment by the two third-party supplier companies, his work on voltage regulators for use in Defendant's microprocessors, and the undisputed receipt by Walters of confidential documents subject to an NDA, Defendant argues that Walters should be disqualified from acting as a consultant or expert for Plaintiffs in this litigation. In response, Plaintiffs do not dispute Walters's prior employment but they contend that the work he performed and the information he had access to is not directly related to the technology at issue in this case. Moreover, Plaintiffs argue that Walters will review these documents in discovery anyway, creating little potential for him to rely on documents he viewed outside of litigation to form his opinions. The parties also dispute who will be most harmed if Walters is excluded.

         Relevant cases indicate that disqualification motions are analyzed under a three-part test: (1) was there a confidential relationship between the party and the expert; (2) is the information disclosed by the party to the expert relevant to the current litigation; and (3) what is the relative prejudice to the parties and the impact of disqualification on the integrity of the legal process. See Oracle Corp. v. DrugLogic, Inc., No. C-11-00910-JCS, 2012 WL 2244305, at *5-6 (N.D. ...


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