Senators Tillis And Leahy Raise The Alarm About Judge Albright's Patent Forum Selling In Waco

from the good-for-them dept

At times I've been at odds with Senators Pat Leahy and Thom Tillis regarding their view on intellectual property (though Leahy has a good history on patent law -- Tillis... not so much). However, kudos to both of them for recognizing a very, very real problem in the way in which Judge Alan Albright has been engaged in what's been called jurisdiction selling.

If you don't recall, Judge Albright, who was a patent litigator before being appointed to the bench in Waco, Texas, went on tour advertising that patent plaintiffs should file in his district court (where he is the only judge). And, this resulted in a ton of cases all being filed there. And despite Supreme Court precedent that says judges need to be willing to transfer patent cases to proper venues, Albright has been thumbing his nose at higher courts and seeming to do everything he can to keep cases in his court.

And now, both Tillis and Leahy are ringing appropriate alarm bells over Albright's activities. Leahy and Tillis together have sent a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to call out Judge Albright's behavior. It is not often that you see two Senators (who lead the IP subcommittee, no less) sending a letter to the Chief Justice to accuse a district court judge of being up to no good. It's quite a letter.

We write you to express our concern about problems with forum shopping in patent litigation. Our understanding is that in some judicial districts, plaintiffs are allowed to request their case be heard within a particular division. When the requested division has only one judge, this allows plaintiffs to effectively select the judge who will hear their case. We believe this creates an appearance of impropriety which damages the federal judiciary's reputation for the fair and equal administration of the law. Worse still, such behavior by plaintiffs can lead individual judges to engage in inappropriate conduct intended to attract and retain certain types of cases and litigants.

We are particularly concerned with this problem in the context of patent litigation. In the last two years our nation has seen a consolidation of a large portion of patent litigation before a single district court judge in Texas. In 2016 and 2017, this single district court heard only, on average, one patent case per year. Last year, however, nearly 800 patent cases were assigned to one judge in this district. This year, this district appears to be on track to have more than 900 cases. This means that roughly 25% of all the patent litigation in the entire United States is pending before just one of the nation’s more than 600 district court judges.

The concentration of patent litigation is no accident. We understand that a single judge in this district has openly solicited cases at lawyers’ meetings and other venues and urged patent plaintiffs to file their infringement actions in his court. Our understanding is that this single judge has also repeatedly ignored binding case law and abused his discretion in denying transfer motions. This has resulted in a flood of mandamus petitions being fled at the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit has been compelled to correct his clear and egregious abuses of discretion by granting mandamus relief and ordering the transfer of cases no fewer than 15 times in just the past two years.

The extreme concentration of patent litigation in one district and the unseemly and inappropriate conduct that has accompanied this phenomenon are, in our view, the result of an absence of adequate rules regulating judicial assignment and venue for patent cases within a district. While we do not know of similar problems occurring in other single-judge districts, it is not hard to imagine similar scenarios arising under a set of rules that allows a plaintiff to effectively choose a particular judge to hear their case. In order to correct these issues, we request that you direct the Judicial Conference to conduct a study of actual and potential abuses that the present situation has enabled. Additionally, we ask that such a study consider and implement appropriate reforms that you can take to address this issue. Finally, we ask that such a report provide legislative recommendations to ensure this problem does not arise in the future.

While simply asking for a study and exploring reforms may not seem like a big deal, it does seem like a warning shot. If something isn't done to fix this by the Judicial Conference, then Congress may need to step in.

Meanwhile, on the same day Tillis sent another letter (without Leahy) to the current commissioner for patents at the USPTO calling out a separate issue involving Judge Albright. This gets a bit deep into the weeds, but, as we've covered, there have been ongoing fights over the whole inter partes review process. This is where certain patents can be challenged before a special patent review board -- the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) -- which is charged with determining whether or not the original patent was granted in error. Patent holders hate hate hate hate the PTAB/IPR process and have been looking to kill it for some time. A key part of their argument is often that it involves two different processes -- sometimes in parallel for killing a patent. The patent can be challenged both in court during a case, and before the PTAB via IPR. Last year, in the Apple v. Fintiv case, a rule was put forth that the PTAB would deny the IPR process to cases that were far enough along, to prevent two parallel challenges to the patent (with possibly opposing outcomes) happening at the same time.

This new letter from Tillis highlights how Albright appears to be using this ruling to block PTAB IPR challenges by scheduling unrealistic trial dates, which are then used to block the PTAB from going forward with an IPR.

As you know, Fintiv instructs the PTAB not to institute an Inter Partes Review (“IPR”) procedure to challenge a patents validity if the panel deems it to be more efficient to allow parallel district court litigation to proceed based on a balancing test comprising six non-dispositive factors. Again, while I strongly support the policies underlying Fintiv, my concern relates to the PTAB’s application of the second of these factors: the proximity of the court's trial date to the PTAB’s projected statutory deadline for a final written decision. Specifically. I am concerned that the PTAB’s historical practice of crediting unrealistic trial schedules. This has not only produced outcomes that are untethered from the policy underpinnings of the Fintiv rule, but it has also created harmful incentives for forum shopping and inappropriate judicial behavior.

The negative consequences are most pronounced in the Waco Division of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. The sole judge in that division schedules very early trial dates for all patent cases assigned to him. Often, these dates prove to be not just unrealistic, but they [sic] impossible to fulfill as multiple conflicting trials are frequently scheduled to occur on the same date before the same judge in the same courtroom. However, because PTAB panels interpret Fintiv to require scheduled trial dates to be taken at face value, panels have regularly exercised discretion to deny institution of IPRs in deference to litigation pending before that district.

Tillis doesn't hold back that this is mostly because of Judge Albright:

To be clear, Ibelieve judicial conduct is partly to blame for this situation. Once a case has been filed in the Waco Division, many defendants have found it all but impossible to persuade the division's sole judge to transfer the case to a more appropriate venue. In denying such transfers, the court has repeatedly ignored binding case law and abused his discretion. This misconduct has resulted in a flood of mandamus petitions being filed at the Federal Circuit, The Federal Circuit has been compelled to correct his clear and egregious abuses of discretion by granting mandamus relief and ordering the transfer of cases no fewer than 15 times in just the past two years.

Notably, in granting these petitions, the Federal Circuit has cast grave doubt on the reliability of the Waco Division's trial schedules and claims regarding efficiency of adjudication. The appellate court has strongly criticized the division's improper reliance on purportedly greater “congestion” in transferee courts in attempting to justify inappropriate denials of transfers under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). More specifically, the Federal Circuit has refused to credit the division's overly optimistic assumptions regarding the time-to-trial in cases, admonishing the division's judge that a “proper analysis” considers “the actual average time to trial rather than aggressively scheduled trial dates." Moreover, the circuit court has also implicitly questioned whether even amore accurate “proper analysis” based on precise caseload counts and the accurate time-to-trial statistics produces a reliable assessment of relative court congestion, characterizing this analysis as mere “speculation.”

Tillis concludes by basically saying that the PTAB should ignore trial dates set by Albright in doing a Fintiv analysis:

Based on the facts currently available to me, it is difficult to imagine any plausible justification for the continued reliance on the demonstrably inaccurate trial dates set by the Waco Division. I therefore ask that you undertake a study and review of this matter and consider whether Fintiv should be modified to account for unrealistic trial scheduling. I ask that you complete this review and implement appropriate reforms based on your findings by no later than December 31, 2021.

It's pretty incredible for a single judge to get this much attention, let alone two separate letters calling out his behavior. Of course, seeing as he's done little to change his behavior despite the Federal Circuit continuing to push back on his activities, it's unclear if any of this will change how Judge Albright acts.

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Filed Under: alan albright, forum selling, forum shopping, inter partes review, ipr, john roberts, pat leahy, patents, ptab, thom tillis, uspto


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2021 @ 9:58am

    When your IP law abuse is so egregious you make even copyright-cocksucking senators blush.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2021 @ 10:48am

    test

    test

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 5 Nov 2021 @ 11:04am

    Wonder of wonders?

    "After Albright encouraged patent owners to file claims in the Western District of Texas, one fifth of the nation's patent cases were filed in the district.[8] On September 24, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rebuked Albright for incorrectly retaining cases instead of transferring them to another jurisdiction.[9] On October 21, 2021, the Federal Circuit issued a writ of mandamus transferring another patent case that Judge Albright oversaw despite his prior denial of transfer. The Federal Circuit's opinion rebuked Albright's continuous denial of transfers from the Western District.[10]"
    from the wiki.

    Magistrate Judge in texas from 92-99? Has a BA from University of texas school of law? Is there any higher schooling then a BA??

    from 1999-2015 he worked for FIRMS, private practice? Not working as a Magistrate?

    "his Juris Doctor from the University of Texas School of Law. He taught trial advocacy at the University of Texas School of Law for several years as an adjunct."

    So he was an adjunct teacher? for about 10 years?

    How does this rank with all the congress?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2021 @ 12:30pm

      Re: Wonder of wonders?

      Well, to start with, there are very few members of congress who are currently sitting justices...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2021 @ 12:45pm

    Has a BA from University of texas school of law?

    ....Trinity University

    Is there any higher schooling then a BA??

    You mean like the Juris Doctor that you mentioned two lines below this?

    How does this rank with all the congress?

    175 have a JD. Another 25 have medical doctorates, and 26 have other doctoral degrees. I'm too lazy to trawl through the current data, but in 2018 there were 5 former judges in Congress.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 5 Nov 2021 @ 12:45pm

    Boy, it sure would have been nice if a member of the judiciary committee like, say, Thom Tillis, hadn't spent four years rubberstamping every name handed to him by the Federalist Society regardless of fitness for office.

    He could have prevented this, but instead it was more important for him to help pump the court system with raw sewage because republican donors and thinktanks demand it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2021 @ 1:12pm

    Perhaps we should deregulate such matters, then the problem will solve itself. Oh, its already unregulated? Well, perhaps we should institute a useless regulation which will do nothing, so we can DEREGULATE it to ensure such abuses never happen again.

    Problem solved, case 902 please

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Nov 2021 @ 1:57pm

    Either bring the hammer down or don't bother

    It's pretty incredible for a single judge to get this much attention, let alone two separate letters calling out his behavior. Of course, seeing as he's done little to change his behavior despite the Federal Circuit continuing to push back on his activities, it's unclear if any of this will change how Judge Albright acts.

    As Tillis noted in both letters...

    The Federal Circuit has been compelled to correct his clear and egregious abuses of discretion by granting mandamus relief and ordering the transfer of cases no fewer than 15 times in just the past two years.

    In almost any other job he would have been fired long before this point as clearly unfit for his position due to corruption, at this point I've little doubt that the only thing that will get him to straighten up is if he is booted from the position and can no longer act in such a manner with nothing less likely to cause even a temporary change for the better because if he doesn't have to worry about losing his position what reason does he have to change?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Tanner Andrews (profile), 11 Nov 2021 @ 12:07am

      Re: Either bring the hammer down or don't bother

      little doubt that the only thing that will get him to straighten up is if he is booted from the position

      Federal judgships are lifetime appointments. Impeachment and removal happens, if I recall, every few years. OK, maybe decades. It takes a lot to get even a trial-level judge removed.

      Some states are reaching that way. In Florida, for instance, appeals judges are safe until age 75. Occasionally trial judges lose an election, but it is rare.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 5 Nov 2021 @ 3:28pm

    Does Judge Albright get paid by the case?

    I think someone needs to closely investigate his finances. Wouldn't surprise me to find out he's taking kickbacks for his rulings.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2021 @ 4:25pm

      Re:

      How much would patent trolls pay to have challenges of their patents delayed indefinitely?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Nov 2021 @ 1:07am

        Re: Re:

        You seem to have this completely backwards, you idiot. The game that corporations are trying to play is to make patent litigation as expensive as possible. That's why they finance people like Techdirt, to besmitch anyone who asserts a patent. Patent holders WANT their cases to get in front of a jury. It's the guilty thieving corporations that innovate very little that want to bleed legitimate inventors to death by dragging out the process FOREVER. What Albright is doing is AMERICAN. He said to all legitimate patent holders, COME TO WACO, and your case will be HEARD. That's in the constitution, the right to be HEARD in COURT.

        I know everyone here is AGAINST that, because you are PAID POSERS, and not REAL AMERICANS.

        Albright is a REAL AMERICAN dishing out REAL JUSTICE, American Style.

        God Bless Judge Albright.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 5 Nov 2021 @ 5:23pm

      Re:

      Checking his finances would probably be a good idea but based upon history it need not be a personal kickback scheme, if memory serves when east texas was considered the patent trolling paradise companies were quite lavish in donations and whatnot, leaving the local towns quite well off.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Nov 2021 @ 12:55am

        Re: Re:

        Or maybe you paid posers are just trying to prevent the rapid delivery of Justice while you defend unlimited corporatism. Who here loves America, besides me and my friend Judge Alan D Albright?

        Crickets? Thought so, you buncha commie fakers.

        Albright for President!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2021 @ 3:30pm

    i am curious as to why now, suddenly?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bill Poser (profile), 5 Nov 2021 @ 5:37pm

    case load

    Leaving aside the problem of bias, how the heck can a single judge handle 800 patent cases a year, plus whatever other cases he is assigned? According to my calculation, on average a federal district court judge is assigned 550 new civil cases per year.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 5 Nov 2021 @ 7:22pm

      Re: case load

      It's easy enough when you've determined ahead of time which side you'll be ruling in favor of and it's known by defendants that you'll make their case as difficult for them as possible so they're better off just paying the 'settlement' demanded of them as at that point you're just going through the motions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 6 Nov 2021 @ 11:22am

      Re: case load

      Rubber stamps move quickly.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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