Document Management Challenges Put Companies at Legal Risk

Many cases centered around document management, retention and disposition could be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court in the next year, as companies run into challenges resulting from a disorganized or inadequate document management strategy, experts tell TechNewsWorld.

The Supreme Court has, in past rulings, provided guidance for companies’ document management policies. Companies should be aware that they must have document retention policies in existence, outlining how long they retain data and when it is destroyed.

Right Technology, Strategy

“Without the right technology and strategies in place, any company or organization can be at serious risk,” said Joe Fantuzzi, chief executive officer of Workshare Technology, Inc., a document management company based in San Francisco.

U.S. judges are increasingly ruling against companies with harsher penalties for failing to properly handle e-mail and other pertinent corporate data.

The National Security Agency (NSA), the government’s electronic spy center, last year released guidelines to help federal government agencies properly redact, or sanitize, metadata in documents that are released to the public. Metadata is “data about data” that is contained in Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF files, indicating the author, date of latest revision and edits that have happened on a particular file. Several recent news reports have exposed metadata controversies at the White House and Pentagon.

Recent regulations — especially on health care records — and lower court rulings have made fines mandatory for violations of data retention regulations, experts say. Companies must have documented policies that they must follow to the letter. They must also be able to act swiftly in the event of legal investigation or audit to provide access to their archived data.

Patent Documentation

Patent application documentation is another are expected to come under increasing scrutiny.

According to Solveig Singleton, an attorney with Washington D.C.-based Progress and Freedom Foundation, said several big cases are due to come before the Supreme Court this year that “could change the overall direction of patent law substantially.”

One such case is KSR International v. Teleflex, wherein the two autoparts manufacturers are arguing over IP in a gas pedal used in some General Motors cars and trucks. “This case is about what the standard is for declaring something obvious and therefore unpatentable. The current law laid down by the Federal Circuit is that one needs to be able to find some kind of ‘motivation’ or ‘direction’ in the prior art, or, documents used to describe the invention,” said Singleton. “This is hard to do, not everything is documented, and the patent office is not good at finding non-patent prior art.”

Singleton told TechNewsWorld he believes the Federal Circuit’s test for obviousness is letting too many patents through. “The Supreme Court has an opportunity here to address serious problems of patent quality and fix one small aspect of it,” he said.

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