Mediatube Corp. v. Bell Canada – Federal Court of Appeal – A company called Media Tube sued Bell Canada for patent infringement with respect to technology pertaining to Bell Fibe TV. Bereskin & Parr acted for Media Tube. Media Tube lost at trial (decision dated January 4, 2017) and appealed.
On its appeal, Media Tube (now represented by Aitken Klee) tried to amend its notice of appeal to add “ineffective assistance by trial counsel” as a ground of appeal. According to Media Tube, Bereskin was concurrently acting for Microsoft whose software was used in the allegedly infringing system used by Bell. This apparent conflict caused Bereskin to “pull its punches” in its representation of Media Tube in order to avoid harming the business interests of Microsoft and advance those of Bereskin (keeping Microsoft happy as a client). Or so Media Tube claims.
Media Tube also sought discovery of Bereskin & Parr in order to ascertain the full extent of the conflict.
The Court of Appeal (Justice Stratas), on June 26, 2018, dismissed Media Tube’s motion. Ineffective assistance of counsel is sometimes used in a criminal context – it is exceptionally rare to be found in civil cases. Media Tube needed to show:(1) the existence of an actual (not “apparent”) conflict and (2) and that the conflict adversely affected counsel’s performance at trial – it is not necessary to show that the outcome would have been different.
Here, Bereskin had filed trademark applications for Microsoft. Justice Stratas was not satisfied that trial counsel knew of this work or that it would have been enough to constitute an actual conflict.
In answer to Media Tube’s complaint that it needed to discover Bereskin in order to get all of the details, the judge observed (not surprisingly) that there is no provision for discovery before an appellate court. He went on to say that Media Tube still had the option of suing Bereskin “for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, or both in the provincial superior court” where full discovery would be available. If Media Tube succeeded, it could recover from Bereskin (or its insurers) any amounts awarded against Media Tube in the Federal Court action and/or seek to have the Federal Court judgment set aside.
It can be inferred, from the judge’s reasons, that Media Tube was floating what I would call “a tinfoil hat conspiracy”, but there is still an embarrassment factor/PR problem for Bereskin in all of this, not to mention the risk that MediaTube will also sue them in the Ontario courts.
The judgment is here:
Review prepared by – Susan Beaubien