Is this the End of the Rocket Docket’s Dominance Among Patent Venues?

As most practitioners know, it is not uncommon practice for litigants to forum shop and file lawsuits in courts that they consider to be friendly to their cause.  For example, the Eastern District of Texas has carved out such a niche, establishing a reputation among patent practitioners as “The Rocket Docket” by resolving patent cases quickly as well as for frequently trying patent suits before juries.  As a result, tiny Texas towns such as Tyler and Marshall became common names and battlegrounds for technology giants, and patent law precedent was often set in the Eastern District of Texas.

Despite its speedy processing of patent cases, however, critics of the Rocket Docket claim that its popularity as venue actually stems from its juries’ tendency to favor plaintiff claims.

Either way, this is all poised to change with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent agreement to hear TC Heartland, LLC. V. Kraft Food Brands Group, LLC.  In 2014, Kraft had originally sued TC Heartland for patent infringement in the District of Delaware.  Delaware is another popular venue for patent owners, and Kraft Foods is incorporated in Delaware.

TC Heartland moved to dismiss the claims for lack of personal jurisdiction and alternatively sought to transfer the case to its home base in Indiana.  When the district court denied its motion, TC Heartland, a producer of beverage sweeteners, asked the Supreme Court to consider setting aside decades-old precedent that allows for patent suits to be brought in any district where a corporate defendant “resides.”

Although the Rocket Docket is not actually hosting the suit, the Supreme Court’s agreement to hear the case could potentially eliminate the concentration of patent cases in the Eastern District of Texas because both the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Congress have signaled interest in reforming the law in a way that would discourage “forum shopping.”  Such reform could also have significant impact on litigation brought by “patent trolls,” as critics have long said that certain judicial districts have procedures and histories of ruling in favor of patent trolls.  In support of their argument, critics note that the Eastern District of Texas, which does not host the headquarters of any major technology companies, heard more than forty percent of all patent cases filed there last year.

TC Heartland’s appeal already has the support of major industry groups that that include Internet retailers, software companies, and major providers of financial services.  As such, a decision by the Supreme Court in favor of TC Heartland could gut the current tradition of filing lawsuits in East Texas even if the case did not originate there.  According to the U.S. Supreme Court’s blog, the case will be heard in late winter or early spring, leaving practioners on both sides on the aisle to eagerly await the high court’s decision.

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