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Law School Case Brief

Oxford Sys., Inc. v. CellPro, Inc. - 45 F. Supp. 2d 1055 (W.D. Wash. 1999)

Rule:

The Washington Rules of Professional Conduct have different conflict-of-interest rules for current clients than for former clients. With respect to current clients, the rules provide that a lawyer cannot represent any client with interests directly adverse to the interests of another client unless each client consents in writing after full disclosure. Wash. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7. 

Facts:

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) owns certain patents that it has licensed to Becton Dickinson (Becton). Becton has, in turn, sublicensed these patents to Baxter Healthcare Corporation (Baxter).

In April 1992, Plaintiff CellPro filed a complaint in this district against defendants Baxter and Becton seeking a declaratory judgment of non-infringement, invalidity, and unenforceability of the JHU patents. The complaint also alleged violations of the Sherman and Clayton Acts. CellPro was represented in the action by Lyon & Lyon, with Seed & Berry acting as local counsel. Becton Dickinson hired a Boston law firm to handle the antitrust claims, a New York firm to handle the patent issues, and Perkins Coie to serve as local counsel.

Lyon & Lyon is represented in this lawsuit by Perkins Coie. Becton Dickinson, who is not a party to this lawsuit, has intervened in this action for the sole purpose of moving to disqualify Perkins Coie as counsel for Lyon & Lyon. Becton argues that Perkins' representation of Lyon & Lyon is a conflict of interest that requires Perkins' disqualification. Perkins argues there is no conflict of interest because Becton is a former client, not a current client; the Perkins partner who handled the patent suit as local counsel left Perkins in 1996; and no current Perkins attorneys who previously worked on the patent matter have any material confidential information about Becton that could be used in this securities litigation.

Issue:

Was Perkins Coie prohibited from representing Lyon & Lyon absent Becton Dickinson's written consent?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court granted Becton Dickinson’s motion to disqualify Perkins Coie. The court concluded that Becton Dickinson and Perkins Coie had an ongoing attorney-client relationship and, therefore, pursuant to Wash. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7, Perkins Coie was prohibited from representing Lyon & Lyon absent Becton Dickinson's written consent.

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