February 21, 2017 Top Story

Court Rejects Black Letter Numerical Limit on Interrogatories

Court adopts “related question approach” in requiring party to answer discrete subparts

Theresa A. Vitello

A federal district court compelled a patent litigation defendant to answer interrogatories which the defendant contended exceeded the numerical limit imposed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 33(a)(1). The court held that in the context of patent litigation involving only one accused product and sufficiently related patents, an interrogatory with multiple subparts will be counted as a single interrogatory for purposes of the Rule 33 limit.

In Synopsys, Inc. v. Atoptech, Inc., the plaintiff sued the defendant for patent infringement based on just one allegedly infringing product. The plaintiff moved to compel responses to interrogatories, which the defendant opposed because it had previously answered the plaintiff’s first set of five interrogatories with at least 21 different subparts. The defendant argued that responding to plaintiff’s second set of interrogatories would exceed the 25 interrogatory limit. 

The court examined whether the case involved more than one accused product, the number of patents in the suit, and whether interrogatories that asked for facts, documents, and witnesses related to a discrete subject or contention. Although there were four patents in the suit, the court concluded that there was only one accused product and the patent applications were sufficiently related to be the subject of a single inquiry.

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