Court Has An Opportunity To Finally End The East Texas Patent Troll Docket
from the shut-it-down dept
It’s been nearly ten years since we first wrote about the East Texas district court, based in Marshall, Texas, (and Tyler, Texas) and the fact that patent trolls have been flooding that court with cases. The trolls claimed they liked East Texas because the judges worked quickly and because they “understood” patent issues. The reality, of course, is that East Texas became notorious for a few judges who were insanely pro-patent troll, and ran their cases in a manner that helped out trolls immensely. It’s become a cottage industry, leading to some weird situations, such as the time that Tivo (involved in a patent lawsuit at the time) literally bought a bull right in Marshall, Texas. Perhaps no company has “invested” more in winning over folks in Marshall than Samsung, which not only sponsored the local ice rink, but also gives scholarships to high schoolers there, donates to local schools and takes kids on semiconductor factory tours — all out of the kindness of its corporate heart, no doubt.
The top judge for patent cases in East Texas used to be John Ward, until he “retired” to join his son in a local law practice representing patent trolls. Then the crown went to Judge Rodney Gilstrap, who is handling a ridiculous number of patent cases. In 2014, he was given 968 patent cases — or 20% of all patent cases filed in the country. Given that, perhaps it’s not surprising that he sometimes appears to completely forget about some cases he’s handling. This is the same Judge Gilstrap who has never (not once) granted attorneys’ fees to a defendant, despite all of the cases he’s heard.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, something is totally screwed up with the patent system. It’s pretty clear that what we’ve been witnessing for over a decade is what’s known as “forum shopping” in which plaintiffs seek out specific courts known to favor them, but with patent trolls and East Texas it’s been taken to a new level. And, notably, a few other courts have been trying to get into the business as well, with Delaware leading the charge over the past few years. Normally, forum shopping is frowned upon, but it’s been allowed in patent cases for way too long… and there’s actually a chance to stop it. In 1990, a ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC, the “patent appeals court”) in VE Holding v. Johnson Gas basically opened the floodgates for forum shopping in patent cases.
But there’s a new case that has the potential to put an end to this forum shopping. In Re: TC Heartland is another patent forum shopping case, in which an Indiana-based company is looking to get a patent case tossed out of a Delaware court over jurisdiction. EFF, together with Public Knowledge and Engine, have asked the court if it can weigh in with an amicus brief, flat out asking the court to overturn the VE Holding case, and to end forum shopping in patent cases.
Congress did not intend for patent owners to be able to sue in any district in the country, no matter how tenuous the links the purported infringer has to the district. Amici ask that this Court restore balance in patent litigation. Amici support Petitioner in asking this Court to grant the petition for mandamus and recognize that VE Holding is no longer good law.
One hopes that CAFC will listen — or, barring that, that the Supreme Court might weigh in and fix this aspect of patent law, as it’s fixed a number of other problems with patent law over the past few years.