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March 10, 2006

At Your Service….

Filed under: Thoughts and Rants — Tom B @ 8:45 am

As many of my long time readers know, I am a lawyer. Some may even know that I am a Federal Court trial attorney. And as you might suspect, I have a reputation at the courthouse for being bombastic in my courtroom presentations…who would have thought that!!! But my outrageous antics go beyond the courtroom.

Every law suit is instigated by the filing of the suit, followed by the Service of the Complaint and Summons (summoning the party into court) by a process server. In US Federal Court any non interested party over 18 can serve process on a party. That means anyone who is not one of the litigants or their employees or employed by my firm, including family members. I have had two game related suits where a took special pleasure in using some rather creative service.

The first was a case I had against Infinium Labs back in 2001, the creators of the often maligned as “vaporware” Phantom Game System. My Client, WhosWe Studios is one of the top Flash programmers in the world. Lots of award winning stuff. They had cut a deal with Infinium to do he company web site, the phantom web site and also the user interface for the console itself. The deal called for WhosWe to devote a minimum of 80% of its personnel to the job and they were to be paid in excess of $100k a month in cash and stock warrants or options. WhosWe did the work but Infinium was not paying. So, after a genuine attempt on our part to settle, we had no choice but to file suit in Federal Court. And because as its creator, WhosWe owned in IP rights to the original graphic works on the sites and Infinium had publically asserted that they owned ths IP, under Florida law we had a good case for Civil Theft of Intellectual Property which allowed me to bring into the suit the two then principles of the company, let’s call them Tim and Bob.

Service of process on the company was easy…all companies are required to have a company agent who accepts service of process for them. Iindividuals, on the other hand, must be served personally by handing it to them or by service someone who lives with them at their place of residence. I knew where Tim lived, so that was not a major problem. But Bob’s address was listed as being in the Midwest somewhere (him mom’s house I think) but I knew he was living at Tim’s house. In order to secure solid service on Bob I would need to get him personally…but how?

As luck would have it Infinium, located on the west coast of central Florida at the time, was ramping up for the release of the Phantom (one of many such ramp ups!) and was going to do a demo at th IGDA Orlando Chapter meeting. So, I called up a client of mine Ian, an out of work developer, and asked him if he wanted to make a few bucks by serving Bob.. He said sure. So, after the representation, Ian walked up to Bob in front of a room full of people and asked him his name, Bob said, “Yes.” And Ian followed perfectly by handing him the law suit and saying, “You’ve been served!” Sweet. I ran into Bob at the DICE conference a few years later after the matter had been resolved and bought him a drink. After all, business is business and there’s no reason to take these things personally!

The second one involves Gizmondo…hey! that’s another much maligned hardware product often referred to a vaporware…is there a pattern here? Gizmondo had breached a contract with my Client, Hand Held Games, and we needed to drag them into court to get things resolved. The problem there was that Gizmondo, though owned by a US company, is based in England. Service of process across international borders is not only tricky but expensive. But, I’m a clever boy. So I decided that the best was to get this done was to serve a corporate officer while on US soil. But how would I ever got that done…then the light went of…E3! Yep, last years’s E3 had a huge booth touting the Gizmondo device and all the cool games it had. And, of course, the executive officers of Gizmondo were there through the show to sell their wares. I had them.

So, I contacted a great private investigator in LA and provided him with a copy of the law suit, summons and pictures of Steve Carrol, the Gizmondo executive that needed to served. And within a day we had him! I will long remember the feeling of satisfaction strolling through the Gizmondo booth with my client and friend, Tom Fessler, the President of Hand Held Games a few hours after we had confirmed service of the suit…sweet. Who says litigation isn’t fun!

Til next time…GL & HF!!!

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