Interviewing expert witnesses is a crucial skill for attorneys involved in intellectual property (IP) litigation. Unlike medical or other types of expert witnesses, IP experts often delve into highly technical fields, such as software, engineering, or biotechnology. While some principles apply across different domains, there are unique considerations when dealing with IP cases. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help attorneys effectively interview and collaborate with expert witnesses in IP litigation.

1. Overlap in Expertise

First and foremost, attorneys need to have a solid understanding of the domain in which they are litigating. If an attorney has no experience with a specific technical field, arguing a case in that domain can be challenging. It is crucial for both the attorney and the expert to have overlapping areas of expertise. This common ground minimizes the risk of misunderstandings and ensures that the attorney can effectively leverage the expert’s knowledge.

2. Communication Skills

Expert witnesses should be adept at explaining complex concepts to laypeople for two key reasons. Firstly, they must convey technical details to a jury in a clear and understandable manner. Secondly, they need to explain these concepts to attorneys, who, despite having a technical background, may not be familiar with the specifics of the case. In IP litigation, where technologies can be deeply intricate, an expert’s ability to communicate effectively is vital for ensuring the attorney fully grasps the nuances of the case.

3. Evaluating Performance

Without a common understanding of the technologies involved, an attorney cannot accurately evaluate an expert’s performance. Miscommunications can lead to misinterpretations, which can significantly impact the case’s outcome. Therefore, ensuring that the attorney has a basic understanding of the technology or is willing to learn from the expert is essential for a productive collaboration.

4. Bandwidth Management

Time management is crucial for both attorneys and experts. Experts typically need at least a month to familiarize themselves with the case materials and begin drafting their report. This process includes reviewing documents, understanding the case intricacies, and formulating their opinions. Attorneys must avoid the common pitfall of engaging an expert witness too late in the process. Allowing ample time for the expert to refine their work ensures a thorough and well-articulated report, enhancing the case’s strength.

5. Supporting Teams

In complex cases, a single expert might not suffice. Discussing the need for additional support upfront is critical. Consulting experts, source code reviewers, or additional testifying experts may be necessary to handle various aspects of the case. Ideally, the primary expert should have an established team with whom they have previously worked. While assembling a new team is possible, it introduces additional risks and uncertainties. A cohesive, experienced team can significantly enhance the quality of the expert’s contribution.

6. Timing of Involvement

The best time to involve an expert witness is during the negotiation of the protective order. Attorneys may not always know which provisions and clauses are appropriate for a case. Some seemingly innocuous clauses can hinder the expert’s work or even make it impossible for them to participate. Investing a few hours of the expert’s time to review the protective order can prevent significant headaches later. Experts might refuse to join a case if the protective order includes problematic clauses, so early involvement is crucial.

7. Qualifications

While a PhD is not an absolute requirement for a testifying expert, it is highly recommended. Juries tend to view PhDs, especially former professors, as highly credible and authoritative figures. PhDs are often better equipped to discuss theoretical concepts, which are common in patent cases. Their academic background enables them to understand the limits of current technologies and propose innovative solutions. In contrast, industry practitioners focus more on practical implementation, which, although valuable, might not carry the same weight in court.

8. References

References are an often-overlooked aspect when selecting expert witnesses. While an expert may possess extensive technical knowledge, they might not be easy to work with or effective during trial testimony. Seeking references can provide insights into the expert’s performance in previous cases, their reliability, and their ability to communicate effectively. This step can help attorneys choose an expert who is not only knowledgeable but also a good fit for the team and the case.


Interviewing expert witnesses in IP litigation requires careful consideration and preparation. Attorneys must ensure there is an overlap in expertise, evaluate the expert’s communication skills, manage time effectively, and consider the need for additional support. Involving experts early, particularly during the protective order negotiation, can prevent future issues. While qualifications like a PhD enhance credibility, practical considerations like references are equally important. By following these guidelines, attorneys can effectively collaborate with expert witnesses to build a strong and compelling case.

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