Federal Circuit Continues Broad Venue Allowance in Patent Cases

by Dennis Crouch

In its petition for writ of mandamus, TC Heartland raised a set of interesting venue and personal jurisdiction claims – basically arguing that both the statute and Supreme Court precedent strongly limit where patent claims can be brought.

In its new decision, however, the Federal Circuit panel has rejected the petition – finding that “Heartland’s arguments are foreclosed by our longstanding precedent.”  This result was expected – likely even by Heartland’s counsel Prof John Duffy and Jim Dabney – and the long game has seemingly always been focused on en banc review and a potential supreme court review.  An eventual win by Heartland would result in a major shake-up of patent litigation by greatly reducing the concentration of patent cases – especially those in the Eastern District of Texas.

The basic setup:

Heartland alleged that it is not registered to do business in Delaware, has no local presence in Delaware, has not entered into any supply contracts in Delaware or called on any accounts there to solicit sales. But Heartland admitted it ships orders of the accused products into Delaware pursuant to contracts with two national accounts.

Based upon this setup, Heartland argues (1) that it does not “reside” in Delaware for venue purposes according to 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b); and (2) that Delaware district court lacks specific personal jurisdiction over it for this civil action.

Unfortunately for Heartland, these same arguments were raised and resolved by VE Holding Corp. v. Johnson Gas Appliance Co., 917 F.2d 1574 (Fed. Cir. 1990).  Although Heartland presented an argument that an amendment to the statute overruled VE Holdings, that argument was flimsy and rightly rejected by the appellate panel.  Rather, the real argument – now to be presented en banc – is that VE Holdings was wrongly decided and represents a misinterpretation of both the statute and Supreme Court precedent.

I previously explained the primary argument as follows:

In the dispute, Heartland has asked the court to reconsider its interpretation of the patent venue statute 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) and order that the limiting elements of the provision be given effect.  Under the proposed interpretation, a patent infringement case could only be filed in districts either (1) the defendant resides or (2) the defendant has both committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business. This proposal stems directly from the language of 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) which requires either (1) residency or (2)  a combination of infringing acts plus a regular-place-of-business as a prerequisite to proper patent venue. For the past several decades the limits of § 1400(b) have been given essentially no weight after being undermined by 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c). This broadened provision undermines § 1400(b) by providing a very broad definition of the term “resides” — indicating that that “except as otherwise provided by law,” a defendant will be deemed to “reside” in any venue where the defendant is subject to that court’s personal jurisdiction in the action at hand. When § 1400(b) and § 1391(c) are read together, it appears that patent cases can be filed in any venue with personal jurisdiction over the defendant.  The point of the TC Heartland mandamus action is that those two provisions should not be read together, but instead, the more traditional and limited definition of “residency” should apply when interpreting 1400(b).

On TC Heartland’s side is Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U.S. 222 (1957).  In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that “28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) is the sole and exclusive provision controlling venue in patent infringement actions, and that it is not to be supplemented by the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c).”  This statement was reiterated by the Supreme Court in Brunette Mach. Works Ltd. v. Kockum Indus., Inc., 406 U.S. 706 (1972) (“Congress placed patent infringement cases in a class by them-selves, outside the scope of general venue legislation.”).  Congress then amended the statute which led the Federal Circuit to hold that Fourco no longer held sway.

 

 

 

Guest Post: Recalibrating Patent Venue

In the following guest post, Professors Colleen V. Chien (Santa Clara) and Michael Risch (Villanova) follow up on their earlier work calling for patent venue reform. They have written a full article on the topic available on SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2834130. — DC

Earlier this year, we presented some initial results of our study of what might happen if patent venue reform took place. Since then, Senator Flake (R-Az) introduced the VENUE Act of 2016, and last month, petitioners, led by a group including James Dabney and John Duffy, filed a petition for writ of certiori in the TC Heartland case in the Supreme Court. Amicus briefs are due October 17, 2016 and Kraft’s brief is due on November 16, 2016.

To support these deliberations, we examined the history of the patent venue law and presented some statistics about plaintiff venue preferences for the Eastern District (for even more statistics on this point see the new paper by Brian Love and James Yoon). Additionally, we empirically modeled both reforms by randomly selecting 939 cases from 2015, and making our best guess as to where cases would have been filed under the proposed rules, assuming they would have been filed at all. Since 2015, the overall number of patent cases has declined, about 20% YTD based on data from Lex Machina (4,216 cases by this time last year vs. 3,369 today). The Eastern District of Texas has made a number of changes and its share is also down from 44% in 2015, to 35% 2016 YTD (30% in 1Q, 36% in 2Q, and 38% in 3Q); the next closest district (Delaware) has seen about 9% of filings, based on data from Lex Machina.

In modeling different venue reform choices, we do not purport to claim that any venue reform would be, on balance, welfare enhancing, nor can we know with certainty where or if cases would be filed. However, we do make one thing clear: a patent system in which so much rides on where a lawsuit is filed is deeply flawed, and, as we have said before, we hope that policymakers will take the opportunity to clarify what has been a complicated area of law.

A draft of the complete paper is available here. In brief, however, TC Heartland reform would require cases to be filed either where the defendant is incorporated or where the defendant has a place of business and is infringing. VENUE Act would add the location of the original inventors as well as anywhere the patent owner performed R&D on the patent (patent assertion entities are, by definition, excluded). To model these provisions we gathered relevant case and location information; we also gathered information on industries, plaintiffs, and defendants of different sizes to understand the differential impacts of reform.

In brief, we looked to see the following under the conditions of each reform: 1) could the plaintiff have filed in the district that the case is already in? 2) if not, could the plaintiff have sued in a district in which it has sued in the last two years? 3) if not, could the plaintiff have sued in a district popular among plaintiffs like it in the last five years? 4) if not, we assume that the plaintiff would sue at the defendant’s primary place of business. Option 1 means “no change” – the case would stay put. Options 2, 3, and 4 mean, “change”—the case would have been filed in another district and the model where the suit would end up based on the proposed venue rules. Note that the 2nd and 3rd assumptions bias our model towards the currently concentrated status quo. Patentees might well pick other favorite districts if they can find a basis for venue there.

Applying this methodology, we found a few interesting things.

First, 86% of cases were filed outside the defendant’s primary place of business,[1] including 80% of cases brought by operating companies and  90% of cases brought by NPEs. When we considered any of defendant’s place of business, cases were filed outside of where the defendant had a location 83% of the time. This suggests that, in general, permissive venue leads to plaintiffs filing where it is convenient or advantageous, which is usually not where the defendant is located.

Second, we find that if TC Heartland reform had been in effect, 52% of operating companies would have to pick a different district than they had originally chosen. For NPEs, 60% would have to pick a different district. If the VENUE Act were passed, however, the change from the status quo would be a lot less dramatic for operating company plaintiffs – only 18% would have to move their case while the rest could have been filed as is. NPE plaintiffs would have been impacted differently, particularly under the VENUE Act, with PAEs most impacted. The reason for this is relatively straightforward: the VENUE Act allows operating companies (and failed companies or individuals) to sue where they do research and development, but does not allow PAEs to do the same. Furthermore, operating companies are more likely to sue where they do research and development, while NPEs are more likely to sue in the Eastern District of Texas.

Third, we find that cases would be more geographically distributed, but our reported distributions are likely in the eye of the beholder and sensitive to our assumptions particularly about the prioritization of familiar districts by plaintiffs, which might not hold in practice. That said, we believe that one thing is clear: cases would leave the Eastern District of Texas. The following table shows the top 5 districts before and after reform as we modeled it:

Final Districts – OpCo π Final Districts – NPE π
District Actual Case Prediction Heartland Prediction VENUE Act Actual Case Prediction Heartland Prediction VENUE Act
E.D.Tex. 7.8% 4.6% 5.0% 64.1% 19.0% 19.1%
D.Del. 10.0% 18.9% 11.0% 7.3% 25.8% 23.1%
D.N.J. 10.3% 12.1% 10.7% 0.9% 2.4% 2.0%
C.D.Cal. 7.5% 14.2% 9.6% 2.1% 2.6% 2.4%
N.D.Cal. 5.0% 2.8% 3.9% 3.0% 17.3% 16.6%

Fourth, Heartland and VENUE Act reform would affect companies of different sizes differently. In general, Heartland would require suits to be filed where the defendant is located much more often than the VENUE Act (on the order of ~65% to ~45% depending on company size). Smaller defendants would benefit more from TC Heartland venue reform than would larger defendants, because of their relatively smaller footprints.

Fifth, we found that manufacturing and biopharma defendants would benefit the least from venue reform. For biopharma, the result is complicated. Contrary to conventional wisdom, all of the cases are not in New Jersey, though as shown in the table above, many of them are. Instead, because reform allows for suit where parties are incorporated, many cases would remain in Delaware, where they are already located. Industries that would see the most benefit from Heartland reform would be in high tech and consumer/durable goods manufacturing. These are often companies with only one place of business, which limits where they could be sued. High tech, especially, is a sector that is often sued by NPEs, so their cases would be relocated under either Heartland or the VENUE Act. On the other hand, manufacturing industries are often sued by operating companies and thus, they would see much less benefit under VENUE Act reform than they would under Heartland.

Despite its limitations, we believe that this study provides valuable insight into patent venue. Examination of venue by industry, comparison of the differences between the options (including who wins and who loses), and analysis about where cases might wind up will hopefully provide fruitful information for anyone involved in patent practice and policy. The full paper has much, much more analysis, with a representative sample of the types and sizes of companies being sued in addition to detailed discussion of how each reform proposal will affect parties by plaintiff type, geography, and defendant industry and size.

 

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[1] We found that, for a random sample of 99 of our defendants’ other litigations, 80% were filed outside the defendant’s primary place of business

Patent Venue: Limits on Venue in Patent Infringement Litigation

The pending Federal Circuit mandamus action of In re TC Heartland involves an interesting legal question that has now been fully briefed.  The Federal Circuit has not yet announced whether it will hold oral arguments in the patent venue debate.

In the dispute, Heartland has asked the court to reconsider its interpretation of the patent venue statute 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) and order that the limiting elements of the provision be given effect.  Under the proposed interpretation, a patent infringement case could only be filed in districts either (1) the defendant resides or (2) the defendant has both committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business. This proposal stems directly from the language of 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) which requires either (1) residency or (2)  a combination of infringing acts plus a regular-place-of-business as a prerequisite to proper patent venue.[1] For the past several decades the limits of § 1400(b) have been given essentially no weight after being undermined by 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c). This broadened provision undermines § 1400(b) by providing a very broad definition of the term “resides” — indicating that that “except as otherwise provided by law,” a defendant will be deemed to “reside” in any venue where the defendant is subject to that court’s personal jurisdiction in the action at hand.[2]  When § 1400(b) and § 1391(c) are read together, it appears that patent cases can be filed in any venue with personal jurisdiction over the defendant.  The point of the TC Heartland mandamus action is that those two provisions should not be read together, but instead, the more traditional and limited definition of “residency” should apply when interpreting 1400(b).  If the Federal Circuit (or Supreme Court) were to flip on this, we would see a major impact on the current concentration of venue in the Eastern District of Texas.

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Party Briefs:

Briefs Amici:

  1. Heartland.Acushnet (Supporting petitioner)
  2. Heartland.EFF (Supporting petitioner)
  3. Heartland.USInventors (Supporting respondent)

Discussions of the Case.

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The history of the issues here have gone back-and-forth.  The key Supreme Court case is Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U.S. 222 (1957).  In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that “28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) is the sole and exclusive provision controlling venue in patent infringement actions, and that it is not to be supplemented by the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c).”  This statement was reiterated by the Supreme Court in Brunette Mach. Works Ltd. v. Kockum Indus., Inc., 406 U.S. 706 (1972) (“Congress placed patent infringement cases in a class by them-selves, outside the scope of general venue legislation.”) However, in 1988 Section § 1391(c) was amended to greatly expand the residency definition to the limits of personal jurisdiction and included a statement that its residency definition in § 1391(c) was “for purposes of venue under this chapter.” Subsequently, the Federal Circuit ruled in VE Holdings that the 1988 statutory amendments overruled Fourco and that the expanded residency definition §1391(c) now applies in patent cases. (§ 1400 (the patent jurisdiction provision) is in the same chapter as §1391.) In 2011, Congress again changed its statute – this time repealing the “for purposes of venue under this chapter” and instead added in that the statute applies in all civil cases “except as otherwise provided by law.”

The petition also argues for a recognition of limits on personal jurisdiction. In particular, the petition argues that a court should not automatically have jurisdiction to rule on acts of infringement that occurred in another state when the court’s personal jurisdiction over the defendant is derived from the specific alleged acts of infringement in the forum state (specific jurisdiction vs general jurisdiction).   The logical key to the argument here is the legal fiction that each infringing act is a separate and distinct infringement – as such, sales in Delaware should not automatically give the Delaware courts jurisdiction to rule on whether sales in New York or California were infringing.

This case is certainly one to watch.

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[1] Section 1400(b) states that “Any civil action for patent infringement may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.”

[2] Section 1391(c) states that “an entity … shall be deemed to reside, if a defendant, in any judicial district in which such defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction with respect to the civil action in question.”

Federal Circuit: TC Heartland changed the law; pre-decision waiver of venue challenges are nullified

by Dennis Crouch

In re Micron (Fed. Cir. 2017)

On writ of mandamus, the Federal Circuit has sided with accused-infringer Micron – holding that TC Heartland was a sufficient change in the controlling law of venue to overcome the fact venue-challenge had been previously waived in the case.  My sense is that this is quite poor analysis opinion, but the outcome will likely stick — allowing venue transfer many more cases.

Over the past three decades, the Federal Circuit had repeatedly interpreted the Federal venue statutes to allow infringement lawsuits to be filed in any court with personal jurisdiction over the accused infringer. In its 2017 TC Heartland decision, the Supreme Court changed course — holding that for business-defendants in patent cases venue is only proper in districts where (1) the defendant is incorporated or (2) the defendant infringes the patent and has a regular and established place of business.   Except for nationwide retailers, this significantly limits the locations where venue is proper. And, remember, the focus here is “proper venue” – if venue is not proper then the case must be dismissed or transferred.

Waiver: The immediate focus following TC Heartland has been the several hundred already pending infringement lawsuits where venue is likely improper.  The difficulty for those defendants is improper venue is subject to waiver — and the rules particularly indicate that a motion for improper venue is waived unless presented during the pleadings. FRCP 12(h)(1).   Here, Micron is facing an infringement lawsuit in Massachusetts (Harvard v. Micron) but did not move for dismissal for improper venue as required by the rules. Once TC Heartland was decided, the defendant then asked the court to consider the issue.

No Waiver: However, R. 12(g) indicates that waiver occurs when the defense is “available to the party but omitted.”  In the mandamus action here, the court ruled that the change in law is so significant that the defense was not truly available until after the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Rule 12 waiver question presented here is whether the venue defense was “available” to Micron in August 2016. We conclude as a matter of law that it was not. The venue objection was not available until the Supreme Court decided TC Heartland because, before then, it would have been improper, given controlling precedent, for the district court to dismiss or to transfer for lack of venue. . . .

This is a common-sense interpretation of Rule 12(g)(2). Where controlling law precluded the district court, at the time of the motion, from adopting a defense or objection and on that basis granting the motion, it is natural to say, in this context, that the defense or objection was not “available” to the movant.

Although the court is absolutely correct that its approach is the common-sense approach since we have been operating under the old rule for decades.  However, the major analytical problem with the court’s decision here is its notion that its misinterpretation of Supreme Court law is somehow “controlling” law.  Rather the Supreme Court decided the identical issue in Fourco (1957) and then in TC Heartland (2017) held the minor amendments made to the guiding statutes did not alter the holding of Fourco.  In other words, the “controlling law” this entire time has been the Supreme Court precedent. Supreme Court writes:

The issue in this case is whether [the amendment to the statutes] supplants the definition announced in Fourco and allows a plaintiff to bring a patent infringement lawsuit against a corporation in any district in which the corporation is subject to personal jurisdiction. We conclude that the amendments to §1391 did not modify the meaning of §1400(b) as interpreted by Fourco.

Regardless of this technicality, the rule appears now that district courts should be considering and granting improper venue decisions moving forward.

In what appears to be dicta, the court did place important limitations on the improper venue challenges – noting that a motion that is not sufficiently timely (i.e., too close to trial) might be denied on that grounds.

 

Venue in Multi-District States

by Dennis Crouch

One post-Heartland topic of some interest is the question of proper venue in multi-district states such as Illinois, which has a northern, central, and southern district.

District vs State: The patent venue statute states that a “civil action for patent infringement may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides…” 28 U.S.C. 1400(b).  In TC Heartland the Supreme Court held that “a domestic corporation ‘resides’ only in its State of incorporation for purposes of the patent venue statute.”  TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC, 137 S. Ct. 1514 (2017).

The problem: TC Heartland defines residence at the state level, but 1400(b) requires a district-by-district focus — “the judicial district where the defendant resides.”

In Missouri, for instance, we have an Eastern and Western District with our state capitol Jefferson City (home of the corporate registration database) situated on the Western side.  Does a Missouri corporation reside in the W.D. since that is the true birthing site of the legal corporation?; Rather does the company reside solely in the district of its HQ?; What if the company is merely registered in Missouri, but no longer operates here?; What about 1391(d)’s focus on the district of “most significant contacts”?

JudicialDistricts

The most compelling case-in-point is likely Stonite Products Co. v. Melvin Lloyd Co., 315 U.S. 561 (1942).  In Stonite the Supreme Court was interpreting a prior version of 1400(b), but confirmed that “an inhabitant of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania” could not be sued in the “in the Western District of that State” without a “regular and established place of business” in that western district.  A problem with Stonite is its cryptic language and that the prior statute used the word “inhabitant” instead of “resident.”

In the one post-Heartland decision on the subject, E.D. Tex. Judge Gilstrap disagreed with the Supreme Court’s Stonite decision – holding instead that “a domestic corporation resides in the state of its incorporation and if that state contains more than one judicial district, the corporate defendant resides in each such judicial district for venue purposes.” Diem LLC v. BigCommerce, Inc., 6:17-CV-00186, 2017 WL 3187473, at *2–3 (E.D. Tex. July 26, 2017). Distinguishing Stonite, Judge Gilstrap wrote that the particular issue was not actually before the court in Stonite but rather, “The only question presented … is whether Section 48 of the Judicial Code … is the sole provision governing the venue of patent infringement litigation.” Stonite. Gilstrap writes: 

This Court … sees no basis to impose an additional requirement, neither present in the statute nor discussed by the Supreme Court in TC Heartland, absent a clear directive to do so.

Diem (2017).

There are at least a handful of pre-Federal-Circuit court decisions as well.  Perhaps most on-point is Action Communication Systems, Inc. v. Datapoint Corp., 426 F.Supp. 973 (N.D. Tex. 1977), which disagrees with Judge Gilstrap’s decision – holding instead that under § 1400(b) a defendant resides “only in the judicial district where its principal place of business is located.” See also Samsonite Corp. v. Tex. Imperial Am., Inc., No. 3-81-1038-H, 1982 WL 52203 (N.D. Tex. Apr. 15, 1982); Sterling Drug Inc. v. Intermedics, Inc., No. A-82-CA-578, 1986 WL 15561 (W.D. Tex. Aug. 6, 1986); Cal. Irr. Servs., Inc. v. Bartron Corp., 654 F. Supp. 1 (N.D. Cal. 1985); Hydro-Clear Corp. v. Aer-O-Flo Corp., 317 F. Supp. 1317 (N.D. Ohio 1970).

A number of old decisions also support Gilstrap’s position: B.W.B. Controls, Inc. v. C.S.E. Automation Eng’g, 587 F. Supp. 1027 (W.D. La. 1984) (Under 1400(b), “venue is proper under section 1400(b), in any judicial district in its state of incorporation”; expressly refusing to follow Action Comm.); Brynes v. Jetnet Corp., No. CV-84-0-661, 1986 WL 15148 (D. Neb. June 2, 1986); Hansa Med. Prods., Inc. v. Bivona, Inc., 1987 WL 14496 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 14, 1987) (“Although there is some split of authority, as a general rule, a corporate defendant resides in all districts of the state in which it is incorporated.”).  Note here that the case law creates a substantial amount of confusing jumping back and forth between residence definitions in 1400 and 1391.

Finally, I’ll note here that 28 U.S.C. 1391(d) does address this situation –

Residency of Corporations in States With Multiple Districts.— [I]n a State which has more than one judicial district and in which a defendant that is a corporation is subject to personal jurisdiction at the time an action is commenced, such corporation shall be deemed to reside in any district in that State within which its contacts would be sufficient to subject it to personal jurisdiction if that district were a separate State, and, if there is no such district, the corporation shall be deemed to reside in the district within which it has the most significant contacts.

The problem with applying this statute is that the whole point of TC Heartland was to focus attention on the patent venue statute and away from these more general definitions.

Get that Case Out of Here! Federal Circuit Continues to Allow Mandamus Actions to Cure Improper Venue

by Dennis Crouch

In re OATH HOLDINGS, INC. (Formerly Known as Yahoo Holdings, Inc.) (Fed. Cir. 2018)

Oath, Inc. tagline blue transparent.svg

The outcome of this case is simple: Oath doesn’t have to defend a patent infringement lawsuit in E.D.N.Y. because that location is an “improper venue.”

Under TC Heartland (2017), patent owners in patent cases now have a fairly limited set of options for filing infringement actions.  In particular, a lawsuit against a domestic defendant must be filed either:

  1. Where the defendant resides (i.e., its state of incorporation)
  2. Where the defendant has a regular and established place of business (i.e., physical building).

TC Heartland falls directly in line with the prior supreme court decision in Fourco Glass (1957).  However, during the interim, the Federal Circuit had expanded its definition of proper venue to include any court that has personal jurisdiction over the defendant.  Thus, for someone who studies only Supreme Court law, TC Heartland was a continuation of an unchanged law. On the other hand, the case was a major shift for those of us whose gaze is directed to the Federal Circuit (and practical district court litigation). The Federal Circuit has identified the latter frame of reference as appropriate — holding that TC Heartland was a change in the law.  In re Micron Technology, Inc., 875 F.3d 1091 (Fed. Cir. 2017).  The Micron decision was important because it prompted district courts to revisit the venue question even if the issue was seemingly waived.

In its decision here, the Federal Circuit holds that Oath/Yahoo should not be considered to have waived the venue issue because it promptly raised the issue immediately following TC Heartland.

There is no dispute that venue in the Eastern District of New York in this case is contrary to § 1400(b). The only question is whether Oath waived or forfeited the right to have the case dismissed on that basis by waiting too long to invoke it. The district court answered yes to that question. The district court’s principal ground for doing so, however, rests on its failure to follow our directly controlling Micron precedent addressing the issue of waiver under Rule 12(g)(2) and (h)(1) as applied to TC Heartland’s rejection of this court’s earlier, longstanding VE Holding precedent. . . .

Micron answers the entire question of waiver under Rule 12(g)(2) and (h)(1) for purposes of this case: there was no such waiver. In what is nearly the only basis for the district court’s denial of Oath’s venue motion, the district court clearly erred in not following the Micron precedent giving that answer. That error warrants mandamus relief.

On remand, the district court is ordered to either dismiss the case or transfer it to a proper venue.

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One tricky aspect of this decision involves the question of “binding precedent.” The Federal Circuit’s patent law precedent is binding on all of the district courts with regard to patent law questions.  However, the Federal Circuit relies upon the law of the various regional circuit courts of appeals when deciding non-patent issues such as  general civil procedure.  Here, although the question of proper venue is a “patent law” question, the patentee argued that the waiver analysis of Micron was an interpretation of First Circuit law and didn’t bind the E.D.N.Y. judge sitting in the Second Circuit.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit rejected that analysis holding that “issues of waiver or forfeiture of patent-venue rights under § 1400(b) and § 1406(a) are likewise governed by our [Federal Circuit] law.” Thus, Micron controls all the district courts.

In Defense of the Federal Circuit: TC Heartland and Patent Venue

Guest Post by Professors Megan M. La Belle & Paul R. Gugliuzza

Patent litigation is, as we all know, highly concentrated in a small number of districts.  Most notably—some might say, notoriously—the rural Eastern District of Texas hears about forty percent of all patent cases nationwide.  Many lawyers and scholars consider this case concentration to be a critical flaw in the patent system.

Against this background, TC Heartland doesn’t seem like a case the Supreme Court would hear simply to affirm.  As Dennis reported last week, nearly twenty amicus briefs have been filed urging reversal, including one signed by sixty-one law professors and economists.  Predictions of a unanimous ruling against the Federal Circuit are not hard to find.  Indeed, TC Heartland looks like other recent cases in which the Supreme Court has reversed the Federal Circuit without breaking a sweat:  It involves a procedural-type rule so favorable to patent owners that, one could easily assume, it must conflict with the rules in other areas of federal litigation.

The Federal Circuit, in the caselaw on review in TC Heartland, has interpreted the patent venue statute to allow patentees to sue corporations for patent infringement in any district where personal jurisdiction exists.  For companies that sell products nationwide, venue is proper almost anywhere, and that enables litigation to cluster in places like East Texas.  Surely, the conventional wisdom seems to be, the Supreme Court will not permit the Federal Circuit to make the venue statute a dead letter in most patent cases.

In our forthcoming article, we defend the Federal Circuit’s venue doctrine, and we challenge the notion that Federal Circuit venue law is outside the mainstream.  As we explain in detail, the expansive venue options available in patent cases are consistent with historical trends in venue law more generally.  For over a century, Congress has steadily expanded plaintiffs’ venue choices, particularly in cases against corporations.  In fact, the Wright and Miller treatise has gone so far as to say that Congress has “nearly eliminate[d] venue as a separate restriction in cases against corporations.”  Venue in patent cases, simply put, is just like venue in other federal cases.

In the article, we also explain why the Federal Circuit’s interpretation of the venue statute is doctrinally sound.  Though the relevant statutes are somewhat complicated and have been amended several times, our defense of the Federal Circuit’s venue law is simple.  It is based on the plain language of two sections of the Judicial Code:  28 U.S.C. §§ 1391(c) and 1400(b).  Section 1391(c)(2), a subsection of the general venue statute, says that, “[f]or all venue purposes,” corporate defendants “reside” in any district in which they are subject to personal jurisdiction.  Section 1400(b), a venue statute specifically for patent infringement cases, says that infringement suits may be brought, among other places, “where the defendant resides.”  Reading the two statutes together, a corporation can be sued for patent infringement in any district in which it is subject to personal jurisdiction—just like in all other types of federal cases.  That is precisely what the Federal Circuit held in its seminal 1990 decision, VE Holding Corp. v. Johnson Gas Appliance Co.

Of course, there’s more law on this issue than the statutes alone.  The petitioner in TC Heartland argues that the question presented is “precisely the same” as in Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., a 1957 decision in which the Supreme Court held that the general venue statute—as it read at the time—did not supplement the patent venue statute.  The Court in Fourco relied heavily on its 1942 decision, Stonite Products Co. v. Melvin Lloyd Co., in which the Court interpreted an even older version of the venue statute and held that, in patent infringement cases, a defendant “resided” only in the state in which it was incorporated.

The petitioner in TC Heartland, building on the theme of “patent exceptionalism” that has resonated with the Supreme Court in recent years, claims that the Federal Circuit has ignored this authoritative Supreme Court precedent.  As we explain in the article, however, even if the Supreme Court decided Fourco correctly (which is not beyond doubt), the general venue statute today is far different than it was at the time of Fourco.  Recent amendments to the statute make plain that the definition of corporate residence in the general venue statute does in fact apply to the patent venue statute.

To be sure, as a matter of policy, granting plaintiffs unbridled discretion over choice of forum in patent litigation may be problematic.  It has incentivized judges, particularly in East Texas, to adopt rules and practices favorable to patent holders in an effort to attract cases.  It has encouraged litigants to engage in unseemly tactics to influence prospective jurors. Ultimately, discretion in forum choice can threaten innovation by facilitating nuisance litigation.  But, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, these problems are emphatically not the result of a misinterpretation of the venue statute by the Federal Circuit, nor does Federal Circuit venue doctrine reflect any sort of patent exceptionalism.

There are better ways to reform the law of forum selection in patent cases.  Congress could amend the venue statute.  Or it could reduce the incentive for litigants to forum shop—and the ability of district judges to “forum sell”—by mandating increased procedural uniformity in patent cases.  Or the Supreme Court could alter personal jurisdiction doctrine, which, for corporate defendants, is tightly linked to venue.  Later this Term, the Court will decide a personal jurisdiction case that could have major consequences for patent litigation.

For a more detailed explanation of these points, read our draft article, which is forthcoming in a terrific symposium issue of the American University Law Review.

Megan La Belle is Associate Professor of Law at Catholic University of America.
Paul Gugliuzza is Associate Professor of Law at Boston University School of Law. 

Metallizing Forfeiture Post-Helsinn

The following guest post is by Daniel Taskalos. After reading his 2013 Stanford Technology Law Review article on Metallizing Engineering post-AIA, I asked Mr. Taskalos to revisit those issues here in Patently-O. – DC

In Helsinn Healthcare S.A. v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc., the Federal Circuit had its first opportunity to address the impact of the “or otherwise available to the public” clause contained in post-AIA 35 U.S.C. § 102.  In finding that the AIA “did not change the statutory meaning of ‘on sale’ in the circumstances involved here,” the Federal Circuit provided insight into the continued relevance of the forfeiture doctrine of Metallizing Engineering v. Kenyon Bearing.

The critical issue in Helsinn was whether the post-AIA definition of prior art requires public disclosure of the details of an invention in order to trigger the on-sale bar.  In the AIA, Congress revised § 102—otherwise known as the “novelty provision.”  As revised, the new novelty provision states:

(a)  NOVELTY; PRIOR ART. — A person shall be entitled to a patent unless—

(1)  the claimed invention was patented, described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public before the effective filing date of the claimed invention.

While the AIA maintained the pre-AIA language of “patented,” “described in a printed publication,” “in public use,” and “on sale,” it added the emphasized clause above (the “catch-all clause”).  The AIA does not provide any elaboration on the import of the catch-all clause, leaving many to wonder exactly what its presence means for the interpretation of the other, well-known categories of prior art.

Since its enactment in 2011, scholars have debated the effect of the catch-all clause on the “public use” and “on sale” statutory bars.*  Helsinn asserted that the catch-all clause modifies prior-art categories such that only disclosures that publicly disclose the details of the invention qualify as prior art.  Advocates like Helsinn contend that the intention of Congress was to overrule “secret” use and sale decisions, like Metallizing Engineering.

Others, including Teva, argue that the addition of the catch-all clause does not invalidate the years of case law interpreting “public use” and “on sale.”  These advocates contend that interpreting the catch-all clause to impose a “public” requirement would be a foundational change to the purpose and rationale for the public use and on sale bars support—in the absence of a clear repudiation by Congress of the pre-AIA law.

*The number of articles discussing both sides of the debate is far too numerous to provide a full list.  You can find a few of these articles listed here.

The facts of Helsinn presented a unique situation in which to consider this important question.  Helsinn sued Teva for allegedly infringing four patents directed to a formulation of palonosetron for reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (“CINV”).  All the asserted claims covered a specific palonosetron amount in a solution—0.25 mg.  The parties agreed that the critical date for all four patents was the same—but different laws were implicated by the patents.  Three of the patents were governed by the pre-AIA patent laws, while the last patent fell under the AIA.

Teva alleged that Helsinn’s asserted patents were invalid under § 102.  The conduct in question concerned an agreement entered into by Helsinn with another party to market and distribute Helsinn’s palonosetron formulation.  Almost two years before the critical date, Helsinn agreed with MGI Pharma, Inc., that MGI would market and distribute one or more formulations of palonosetron, contingent on approval by the FDA.  The agreement identified the 0.25 mg dosage as one of the potential formulations to be purchased and sold.  Although the existence of the deal was made public (through a required SEC filing), the specific formulation details were redacted.

Thus, the district court faced analyzing the same conduct under two sets of laws:  pre-AIA and post-AIA.  Under either, however, the same two-prong framework explicated in Pfaff v. Wells Electronics applied: the on-sale bar is triggered where before the critical date (1) there is a sale or an offer for sale and (2) the claimed invention was ready for patenting.  Under the Pfaff framework, the district court found that the distribution agreement constituted a sale with respect to the three pre-AIA patents.  But the district court interpreted Congress’ addition of the catch-all clause as a modification to the “on sale” category that placed a public requirement on the disclosure itself.  The district court found that under the AIA, a § 102-triggering sale must publicly disclose the details of the invention; a public sale that did not disclose the claim limitations was insufficient.

The Federal Circuit reversed this decision and provided an analysis may prove instructive in future cases concerning public uses and other non-informing disclosures.  In its opinion, the Federal Circuit noted that the support for Helsinn’s argument that § 102’s requirements changed with Congress’ addition of the catch-all phrase rested outside of the text of the amended provision; Helsinn relied primarily on floor statements by a few individual members of Congress.

The Federal Circuit noted that those floor statements appeared to show “at most” an intent to do away with case precedent concerning “public use” cases, not “on sale” cases.  According to the Court, the only “precedent” cited by the Congressmen were cases in which the invention was used in public, but that use did not disclose to the public the details of the claimed invention.  E.g., Egbert v. Lippman; Beachcombers International v. Wildewood Creative Products; Jumpsport, Inc. v. Jumpking, Inc.  Moreover, the Federal Circuit explained that even assuming the statements could be stretched to cover sale cases as well, the “secret sale” cases “were concerned entirely with whether the existence of the sale or offer was public,” not whether the details of the invention were disclosed.  Thus, the Court found the floor statements were of little support for a different interpretation of the statutory meaning of “on sale” under the AIA.

The Federal Circuit further found Helsinn’s argument unpersuasive because imposing a publicity requirement would  “work a foundational change in the theory or the statutory on-sale bar.”  In fact, the Federal Circuit noted that the issue of whether to impose a publicity requirement was exactly the situation in Pennock v. Dialogue, in which Justice Story created the on-sale bar.  In Pennock, Justice Story found that allowing a patent to stand after a sale that did not disclose the claim limitations “would materially retard the progress of science and the useful arts, and give a premium to those who should be least prompt to communicate their discoveries.”  Relying heavily on its prior case law, the Court also explained why  such a publicity requirement has never been considered necessary.  The Federal Circuit concluded by hold that at most, the catch-all clause just requires that the sale must put the patented product in the hands of the public,* not that it must be informed of all the limitations of the claim.

*Of course, the Federal Circuit did not mean that the product must be explicitly in the hands of the public.  As discussed in the opinion, “our prior cases have applied the on-sale bar even when there is no delivery, when delivery is set after the critical date, or, even when, upon delivery, members of the public could not ascertain the claimed invention.”

Looking at the Federal Court’s reasoning in Helsinn and The Medicines Co. v. Hospira, Inc., that Metallizing Engineering may remain good law under the AIA.  As the Federal Circuit made clear, it does not view the floor statements in Congress as evidencing a clear intent to overturn the “on sale” precedent, instead “at most” supporting an argument that the intent was to overturn the “public use” case law.  In The Medicines Co., the Federal Circuit referred to Metallizing as an “on sale” case: the conduct at issue in Metallizing was the sale of performing a particular claimed process for compensation before the critical date, i.e. activity triggering the on-sale bar.  Thus, the Federal Circuit would likely find mere floor statements to be of little relevance to a factual situation similar to Metallizing.  Moreover, as the Federal Circuit identified, the law regarding “secret sales” has always been concerned with whether the existence of the sale itself was publicly disclosed—not the details of the invention.  There is no indication in Metallizing that the sales at issue were not publicly known, so the same rationale from Helsinn should apply.

In Helsinn, the Federal Circuit anchored its holding on the fact that imposing a requirement that a triggering sale disclose the details of the invention directly contradicts Justice Story’s reasoning in Pennock for creating the on-sale bar.  As Justice Story saw it, to allow an inventor to exploit commercially his or her invention for an extended period and still maintain the ability to seek patent protection would undercut the “progress of science and the useful arts” and promote undesirable behavior.  This principle has been consistently reiterated by the Federal Circuit.  See The Medicines Co.; Atlanta Attachment Co. v. Leggett & Platt, Inc. (“The overriding concern of the on-sale bar is an inventor’s attempt to commercialize his invention beyond the statutory term.”).  The aim of discouraging the inventor from improperly extending the monopoly was one of the underlying reasons behind Judge Learned Hand’s decision in Metallizing.  Thus, it is possible that the Federal Circuit may find Metallizing to remain applicable after the AIA, despite the reduced ability for such conduct under the first-to-file concept of the AIA.*

*This is one argument raised in support of the view that the AIA explicitly overrules Metallizing.  Under the first-to-invent approach, this type of secret commercialization provided a greater incentive because even if another filed a patent on the claimed invention prior to the commercial exploiter, the exploiter could, in theory, establish prior invention and obtain the patent.  As prior invention is no longer a valid argument under first-to-file, the incentive to secretly exploit an invention is diminished.  However, the fact that success may be more difficult does not, in and of itself, mean the forfeiture doctrine no longer has value or applicability.  As long as one person is still able to commercially exploit his or her invention in a manner like that in Pennock or Metallizing, the reasoning for the doctrine would still apply.

The recent Supreme Court decision in TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Food Grp. Brands LLC also provides support for the continued relevance of MetallizingSee No. 16-341 (May 22, 2017).  At issue in TC Heartland was the impact of Congressional amendment of the general venue statute (28 U.S.C. § 1391(c)) on the interpretation of the patent venue statute that was not amended (28 U.S.C. § 1400(b)).  The patent venue statute has remained unchanged since the Supreme Court interpreted its scope, holding that a domestic corporation only “resides” for purposes of venue in a patent infringement action in its state of incorporation.  See Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp. (1957).  However, after Congress amended the general venue statute in 1988, the Federal Circuit held that Congress’s amendment also changed the scope of where a corporation “resides” under § 1400(b) (although § 1400(b) remained unchanged).  See VE Holding Corp. v. Johnson Gas Appliance Co. (1990).  In TC Heartland, the Supreme Court reversed the Federal Circuit’s ruling in VE Holding, emphasizing that “[w]hen Congress intends to effect a change [to the statutory meaning of legal language], it ordinarily provides a relatively clear indication of its intent in the text of the amended provision.”

Accordingly, the TC Heartland decision can be interpreted as requiring clear congressional intent within the text of an amended provision itself to modify the settled meaning of statutory language.  Such an interpretation would further undermine the persuasiveness of the minimal floor statements discussed in Helsinn, given that those statements were by individual senators, put forth their interpretations of post-AIA § 102, and are not included within the text of the AIA.  Moreover, the Federal Circuit in Helsinn appears to have found the catch-all clause to not be a “clear indication if [Congress’s] intent in the text of the amended provision” to change the interpretation of “on sale” in the statute.  In light of the large amount of scholarly debate on the meaning of the clause, it seems unlikely that the Supreme Court would disagree with the Federal Circuit’s apparent determination.

After Helsinn, it appears that on-sale bar precedent has survived the AIA.  Applying the Court’s reasoning, and in view of other recent cases such as The Medicines Co. and TC Heartland, it appears the Metallizing Engineering precedent may also have survived the AIA, at least for now.  However, there is still the possibility that the Federal Circuit may take the opportunity presented by the ambiguity caused by the catch-all clause to revisit the ultimate decision in Metallizing.  Although the Federal Circuit may consider Metallizing to be an “on sale” case, Judge Hand’s opinion does rely on principles underlying both the “public use” and “on sale” bars.  As such, the forfeiture doctrine of Metallizing would appear to be an extra-statutory bar, not falling within either the “public use” or “on sale” categories entirely.  Because of this, some have questioned whether Judge Hand’s decision is actually correct.  See Dimitri Karshtedt, Did Learned Hand Get It Wrong?: The Questionable Patent Forfeiture Rule of Metallizing Engineering, 51 Vill. L. Rev. 261 (2012).  Moreover, although the Federal Circuit was not persuaded as to the “clear indication” of intent to change the meaning of “on sale” as advocated by Helsinn and others, that is not to say the Supreme Court would hold the same.

Daniel Taskalos is an intellectual property associate at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.  His practice covers a range of issues, including litigation and counseling.

Patent Venue at the Supreme Court: Correcting a 26 Year Old Legal Error

TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods (Supreme Court 2016) [Petition for Writ of Certioari]

Patent litigation continues to be concentrated in a small number of venues.  This case is potentially a big deal because it could eliminate this concentration — especially patent cases in the E.D.Texas.  Both the PTO and Congress appear in favor of venue reforms, but statutory reforms will likely wait until the Supreme Court decides TC Heartland.

Background: The scope of patent venue is codified in 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) and limits venue to judicial districts “where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.”  At first glance, this venue statute would seem to significantly limit venue — For instance, few patent infringement defendants actually reside or have a place of business in the E.D. Texas.  That narrowness was confirmed in the Supreme Court’s decision in Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U.S. 222 (1957).  The issue in Fourco Glass involved the parallel statute of 28 U.S.C. § 1391 (titled “Venue generally”) that broadly defined a corporation’s residence to include “any judicial district in which it is … licensed to do business or is doing business.” Despite the seeming broadening statutory definition, the Supreme Court held that the more general Section 1391(c) could not be used to expand venue beyond what was contemplated in Section 1400(b).  Rather, the court held that “where the defendant resides” in § 1400(b) is limited to “the state of incorporation only.” Fourco Glass.

We hold that 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) is the sole and exclusive provision controlling venue in patent infringement actions, and that it is not to be supplemented by the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c).

Id.

In 1988 Congress amended 1391(c) to expand the definition of residency “for all venue purposes” to include “any judicial district in which such defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction.” Based upon that change, the Federal Circuit determined in 1990 that Fourco Glass had been implicitly overruled and that the new provision of 1391(c) now does redefine and greatly expand Section 1400(b) even though the legislative history of the 1988 amendment did not discuss patent venue. VE Holding Corp. v. Johnson Gas Appliance Co., 917 F.2d 1574 (Fed. Cir. 1990).

The chart below from the cert petition shows the 1988 statutory change that the Federal Circuit found sufficient to indicate an overruling of Fourco Glass.

1391cComparison

It is this 1990 combination of 1400(b)/1391(c) that is now the status quo – venue is proper in any any federal court that has personal jurisdiction over the accused infringer.*

TC Heartland challenges the VE Holding interpretation offering broad venue.  It writes:

The question in this case is thus precisely the same as the issue decided in Fourco: Whether 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) is the sole and exclusive provision governing venue in patent infringement actions and is not to be supplemented by 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c).

The Supreme Court previously decided patent venue in Stonite Products Co. v. Melvin Lloyd Co., 315 U.S. 561 (1942) and also held that the specific patent venue provisions should prevail and remain unmodified by the general venue provisions.

I’ll be happy if TC Heartland wins because it will make it much easier for me to watch patent cases here in Missouri.

The new petition is filed by James Dabney and John Duffy who were the forces behind KSR v. Teleflex.

= = = = = =

* The one major caveat is that Congress again amended 1391(c) in 2011 and the associated legislative history suggests a Congressional recognition that “VE Holding is the prevailing law.”  Update and Correction – On suggestion from a reader, I followed chased down the above quote – it does not actually come from the Congressional Record but instead is Judge Moore’s conclusion found in the TC Heartland case.  The opinion states:

In fact, before and after these [recent] amendments, in the context of considering amending the patent venue statute, Congressional reports have repeatedly recognized that VE Holding is the prevailing law.

For its conclusion, the court cites several Congressional reports that I have not read: “See H.R. Rep. No. 110–314, at 39–40 (2007); S. Rep. No. 110–259, at 25 (2008); H.R. Rep. No. 114–235, at 34 (2015) (stating that “Congress must correct” our holding in VE Holding by amending § 1400); cf. Venue Equity and Non-Uniformity Elimination Act of 2016, S. 2733, 114th Cong. § 2(a) (2016).”  An important note with this is that the court did not identify any record contemporaneously with the 2011 report that suggests a conscious choice to keep VE Holding as the prevailing law.

TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Oral Arguments.

Last week’s oral arguments in TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods (SCT 16-341) went well for the petitioner. [TRANSCRIPT: 16-341_8njq]  In the case, the accused infringer TC Heartland argues that Delaware is an improper venue for its patent case since 28 U.S.C. 1400(b) limits patent venue to “judicial district where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.”  TC Heartland is an Indiana LLC that is also HQed in Indiana and has no regular place of business in Delaware – seemingly excusing it from defending a patent case in Delaware.  The big catch, however, is that 28 U.S.C. 1391(c) provides a broad definition of “reside” –

Except as otherwise provided by law . . . For all venue purposes . . .  an entity . . . shall be deemed to reside, if a defendant, in any judicial district in which such defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction with respect to the civil action in question.

28 U.S.C. 1391(c).  This provision appears to greatly extend the reach of proper venue for all federal cases to the limits of personal jurisdiction as well. Operating from a blank slate, I expect that the best reading of the statute is that 1391(c) controls and broad venue is available.  The problem though, is that the Supreme Court previously held the other way in Fourco Glass (1957).  And, although the statute has been somewhat amended, there is no suggestion in the record that Congress intended to overrule Fourco.

Arguing for TC Heartland, James Dabney begins:

MR. DABNEY: The Court in this case is presented with an historic choice. That choice is between upholding or destroying venue protections that Congress provided in 28 U.S.C. 1400(b), and that this Court interpreting that statute declared to exist in its Fourco Glass decision. And the correct choice, we submit, is to adhere to this Court’s existing, long-established interpretation of Section 1400(b) and to reject the new call for a new revisionist interpretation that would render Section 1400(b) nugatory in this case and in all but the most unusual cases. . . .

In the Fourco Glass case, the Court considered statutory language that was not materially different in this respect from current 1391 and held that 1400(b) when it says the judicial district where the defendant resides, that means domicile.

Justice Kagen appeared to agree that Fourco controls – and that the Federal Circuit has been going the wrong way for some time:

JUSTICE KAGAN: One oddity of this case is usually, when we say something, when we issue a decision, we can be pretty confident that Congress is acting against the backdrop of that — that decision. But I think that that would be an odd thing to say in this case, given that for 30 years the Federal Circuit has been ignoring our decision and the law has effectively been otherwise. And then It seems actually that if I were a congressman, I’d think that the practical backdrop against which I’m legislating is not Fourco; it is instead the Federal Circuit’s decision in VE Holding, which is the decision that the practice has conformed to.  . . . When 30 years of practice goes against you, what happens?

MR. DABNEY: I heard Justice Souter say something like that in the KSR case, you know, the teaching-suggestion-motivation test had been around so long that, at some point, the mistake becomes the law. And this Court has again and again and again stood up for its authority to declare what the law is.

On issues of patent law, there’s actually a precedent, Andrews v. Hovey that says no issue of patent law is settled until we have settled it.

Chief Justice Roberts, who tends to focus on precedent, seems to also agree that congressional action since then had no intent to overrule the patent venue cases:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: No — [the recent amendment to 1391] wasn’t intended to overrule VE Holding, but I suspect it wasn’t intended to overrule Fourco at all either. And Fourco is a decision of this Court.

For his part, William Jay, arguing on behalf of Kraft focused on the statutory language.

MR. JAY: [The post-Fourco amendment] it isn’t here a change from “for venue purposes” just to “for all venue purposes.” [there are several other amendments to the statute] . . . [Although] the principles by which Fourco interpret the statutes are still good law — the definition that Fourco applied is no longer the controlling definition of “residence.”

So Fourco is based on two things. Number one, the fact that 1400 was recodified in the 1948 revision of the Judicial Code. [That is interpreted differently than ordinary amendments, which presume an intent to change and overrule.]

The other thing is the specific and the general canon. This Court said that 1391(c), as it then existed, was clearly a general corporation venue statute, and so it was. It provided where a corporation could be sued. It doesn’t do that anymore. 1391(c) is now a purely definitional provision, and it was adopted specifically to clear up a number of the nagging problems that the members of the Court have been asking my friend about, including where do you sue an artificial entity that is not a corporation? Where does it reside.

An important statutory interpretation question is whether the Supreme Court’s Fourco interpretation of 1400(b) should be included within the “except as otherwise provided by law” limitation of 1391(c).  Interesting question about what Congress intended when it said “provided by law.”

Only a small portion of the discussion involved policy questions of the focus of patent cases in E.D. of Texas and the pending congressional legislation. This, I think brought out a good point by Mr. Jay.

MR. JAY: I think that the issue is not the definition of residence. The [real] issue is how do we come up with a different patent venue statute altogether? And that is something that Congress has been working on, trying to come up with something more calibrated, so that, for example, a research university would be able to bring suit in its home district, because that’s where it did the invention; it’s where the inventor’s lab is and so forth, you know, where they would want to be able to sue a defendant in its own principal place of business, even if it doesn’t commit the relevant act of infringement there.

Big picture here – the statutory interpretation is messy enough that there is not a clean pathway to an answer for the Supreme Court.  If we have a reversal – we’ll see more big changes to patent litigation.

Guest Post: TC Heartland and Statutory Interpretation

By: Michael Risch, Professor of Law, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law

After the certiorari grant in TC Heartland, Dennis solicited a blog post from anyone who thought the case was not a slam dunk. Always the contrarian, I took him up on the offer. In a prior blog post at my own blog, Written Description, I detail some of the history of the statute and highlight why I think that Fourco does not necessarily answer the question. Colleen Chien and I flesh out the history and interpretation a bit more in our article, which we’ve blogged about here in the past.

I should note that the outset that I favor TC Heartland’s position from a policy point of view. I’ve long said in a variety of venues (including comment threads on this very blog) that there are significant problems with any system in which so much rides on where the case is filed. And I think that’s true whether you think they are doing a great or terrible job in the Eastern District of Texas.

Now, on to the interpretive issues. In general, I favor the application of longstanding original norms of statutory interpretation unless there’s good reason to depart from them (see, e.g., my new paper on reasonable royalties). I think this is doubly true where no one ever challenged the original interpretation (see, e.g. the ridiculous claims that common law copyright grants a performance right to sound recordings, despite the fact that no one ever thought so in the history of common law copyright). But in this case, I don’t think one can simply rely on the fact that no one challenged VE Holdings for 25 years. After all, the Supreme Court just overturned our understanding of design patent damages despite a tacit understanding that was more than 100 years old. As I noted here, this bothered me a bit given my general views, but I also think it was the correct statutory interpretation.

But, as I noted in my prior blog post, I don’t think one can just say “Fourco controls.” As I noted there: “Stonite and Fourco were statutory interpretation problems…. [T]his is a statutory interpretation problem. But the statute in Fourco is different from the statute today and has been amended twice since. We cannot rely on a supposed ‘rule’ about a statute that no longer exists.”

Instead, we have to return to first principles. In Stonite, the court clearly held that the patent venue statute was a special statute, to be specially applied differently than the general venue statute.  After Stonite, the general venue statute was amended. But let’s look at the statutes of the time. Right out of Fourco:

Section 1400 is titled “Patents and copyrights,” and subsection (b) reads:

“(b) Any civil action for patent infringement may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.”

Section 1391 is titled “Venue generally,” and subsection (c) reads:

“(c) A corporation may be sued in any judicial district in which it is incorporated or licensed to do business or is doing business, and such judicial district shall be regarded as the residence of such corporation for venue purposes.”

The court ruled that not enough changed since Stonite: we still had two separate venue tracks, and the patent statute was separate. The question now: is there a way for Congress to have changed this? could it have done so unintentionally? Let’s look at the 1988 change to 1391(c):

“For purposes of venue under this chapter, a defendant that is a corporation shall be deemed to reside in any judicial district in which it is subject to personal jurisdiction at the time the action is commenced.”

There is a key change here: 1391(c) no longer talks about a “separate” track where corporations can be sued “for venue purposes.” Instead, it says that “for purposes of venue under this chapter…” the definition of resides has now been set (emphasis added). The question is whether the Fourco precedent means that Congress had to do more than this to change the meaning of 1400(b) (which is in the same chapter). In VE Holdings, the Federal Circuit said no, it didn’t – that the plain language modified 1400, and, essentially, that Congress had said there were no more tracks here.

And that, I think, is the core question here. This is not a Supreme Court policy. This is the Court interpreting the statute. What did Congress do? In Stonite and Fourco, the Court said that Congress intended two separate tracks. The Federal Circuit says that in 1988, Congress merged those tracks by changing the definition of “venue” “under this chapter.”

The only other information we have is that in 2011, more than 20 years after VE Holdings, Congress expanded 1391 again. Section 1391(a) says the section applies to all civil actions “except as otherwise provided by law” (and as we detail in our article, the legislative history is clear that this referred to a list of statutes compiled by the ALI, and 1400 is not among them.) Further, 1391(c) expanded from “under this chapter” to “all venue purposes.” In other words, knowing that the Federal Circuit had interpreted 1391(c) and 1400 to be in a single track, Congress further expanded 1391 even more broadly and did nothing to clarify that no, really, “resides” in 1400(b) was really intended to continue to have the narrow definition. We know from many other contexts, in patent law and otherwise, that Congress is fully capable of correcting erroneous court interpretations, and the agglomeration of cases in Texas was known in 2011. Indeed, the AIA was passed in close proximity, and it included special provisions to deal with filings in Texas, but never once attempted to clarify that VE Holdings interpretation was wrong. For Congress to have expanded the venue statute and pass the AIA without addressing this point is particularly salient.

I, frankly, have no idea how this statutory interpretation issue will or even should come out. I don’t think this is a statutory slam dunk either way. TC Heartland is represented by outstanding lawyers who make outstanding arguments to the contrary. And the Court even granting cert. says something. You could dismiss all I’ve written with a wave of the hand: Fourco stands for the proposition that 1400(b) is separate and the current 1391(c) is no different in structure than the 1391(c) that faced the court then. I am troubled by this argument, but I can see how others might reasonably embrace it.

Choosing a District for Patent Infringement Filing and Giving Meaning to Section 1400(b)

by Dennis Crouch

Back in 2008, I remember speaking with Judge Rader about the court’s recent jurisprudence.  My thought was that In re TS Tech (Fed. Cir. 2008) was the most important of the year thus far. In that case, the Federal Circuit started the trend of mandamus actions for venue change that had an important (although not conclusive) impact on venue in patent cases.  Following TS Tech, patent plaintiffs learned ways to shape their behavior to better ensure venue by, for example, incorporating in Texas and creating a headquarters in Marshall.  At that time, we also saw a rise in patent infringement filings in Delaware – the corporate home for many companies, plaintiffs and defendants alike.

The new pending mandamus petition of  In re TC Heartland (Fed. Cir. 2015) has the potential of even more dramatically shaking-up patent litigation filing strategy and limiting the extensive forum shopping available under current Federal Circuit doctrine.   In particular, the E.D. Texas filings might be brought-back into the norm.

The Federal Circuit has taken its first step toward hearing the mandamus action by ordering Kraft to provide a response to Heartland’s petition.  The per curiam order requires Kraft to respond within seven days. 10-26-15Order.

In the case, Heartland proposes a reinterpretation of the more powerful doctrine of jurisdiction rather than the venue requirements of TS Tech.

Under Heartland’s proposed statutory interpretation, a patent case could only be filed in districts (1) where the defendant resides or (2) where the defendant has both committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business. This stems directly from the language of 28 U.S.C. 1400(b).

Further, in cases where a court’s personal jurisdiction over the defendant is based on acts of infringement in the forum (specific jurisdiction rather than general jurisdiction), Heartland argues that the courts don’t have jurisdiction to adjudge the alleged out-of-state infringement.

Susan Decker provides more perspective in Bloomberg.

 

 

Looking-Back: TC Heartland; Waiver; and a Change in the Law

In re Yahoo (Fed. Cir. 2017)

The Federal Circuit has ordered briefing in Yahoo’s petition for writ of mandamus on the issue of venue.  The E.D.N.Y. denied Yahoo’s motion to dismiss, holding (on oral decision): (1) that Yahoo had waived its right to challenge venue; and (2) that TC Heartland did not change the law (since Fourco has been the controlling law all along).  Note here, the second point – change in law – is important because it can excuse prior waiver.  Under Second Circuit law: “[A] party cannot be deemed to have waived objections or defenses which were not known to be available at the time they could first have been made.” Holzsager v. Valley Hosp., 646 F.2d 792 (2d Cir. 1981).  In my view, a major problem with Yahoo’s ‘lack of knowledge’ problem was that by the time their answer was due (January 2017), TC Heartland was already pending before the Supreme Court.

Note, on the merits, the plaintiffs (AlmondNet, et. al) apparently admitted that venue would be improper – but for the waiver.

[Petition for Mandamus With Appendix]

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The case involves U.S. Patent Nos. 7,822,639; 7,979,307; 8,244,574; 8,244,582; 8,244,586; 8,494,904; 8,671,139; 8,677,398; 8,775,249; and 8,959,146.

Where does a Defendant “Reside” for Jurisdictional Purposes in Patent Infringement Cases?

By Dennis Crouch

In re TC Heartland LLC (on mandamus to the Fed Cir. 2015) (read-it: Heartland Mand)

An interesting mandamus action was recently filed by the Prof John Duffy and Jim Dabney (both now with Hughes Hubbard) raising the following: Whether 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) precludes the district court from hearing this action.

Section 1400(b) is the jurisdiction statute for patent cases indicates two mechanisms for jurisdiction: (1) the district where the defendant resides or (2) the district where the defendant infringed and has a regular place of business.

Any civil action for patent infringement may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.

28 U.S.C. § 1400(b). Section 1391(c) further provides for a broad definition of residency, broadly including both (1) the district of domicile and (2) any district where the defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction on the issue of the case.

The question ultimately raised by the case is whether the broad residency definition of §1391(c) applies to modify and expand the “resides” language of 1400(b).

The history goes back-and-forth: In Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U.S. 222 (1957), the Supreme Court ruled that “28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) is the sole and exclusive provision controlling venue in patent infringement actions, and that it is not to be supplemented by the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c).” Then in 1988, §1391(c) was amended to expand the definition of residency and also to include a statement that its residency definition was “for purposes of venue under this chapter.” Subsequently, the Federal Circuit in VE Holdings held that the 1988 amendment overruled Fourco and that the expanded residency definition §1391(c) now applies in patent cases since §1400 (the patent jurisdiction provision) is in the same chapter as §1391. In 2011, Congress again changed its statute – this time repealing the “for purposes of venue under this chapter” and instead added in that the statute applies in all civil cases “except as otherwise provided by law.”

The petition argues that VM Holdings was wrongly decided in the first place and basically led to the reality known as the Eastern District of Texas. In the alternative, the petition also argues that the 2011 amendment overruled VM Holdings.

VE Holding has produced enormous venue shopping opportunities in patent infringement actions to the point where, in the most recent year, one district (E.D. Tex.) has 50% more patent filings than the next most popular district (D. Del.) and more than four times as many filings as the district with the third most patent case filings. . . . “The abuses engendered by this extensive venue,” Stonite Products Co. v. Melvin Lloyd Co., 315 US 561 (1942), are precisely the sort of abuses that were prevented by the Supreme Court’s decisions on § 1400(b) and that would be prevented once again with a return to those controlling precedents.

What isn’t clear to me is whether a mandamus panel has authority to overrule the prior precedent. Of course, an en banc panel will have that authority and in their petition Duffy & Dabney particularly request en banc consideration.

Personal Jurisdiction: The petitioner here also argues an additional personal jurisdiction question that begins with the standard notion that each act of infringement is a separate act of infringement. Their argument then is that the court only has specific personal jurisdiction with reference to allegedly infringing Delaware sales and not the sales in other jurisdictions. The usual practice in patent cases is that once the court has specific personal jurisdiction based upon one alleged act of infringement directed to the state that the court can then adjudge infringement allegations arising nationwide. Of course, that result contravenes the usual rule that “specific personal jurisdiction is limited to claims that arise from “an ‘activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum state.'” Walden (2014). In its brief, the petitioner does a fine job of distinguishing Keeton v. Hustler (1984) that allowed for nationwide damages for defamation. The difference from patent law is that the substantive single publication rule for defamation means that the nationwide damages all stemmed from the same tortious act that led to the specific personal jurisdiction in NH; in the patent context sales in one state that might create personal jurisdiction in that state are separate acts of infringement than sales in another state. Thus, the petitioner explains: “The district court here plainly lacks personal jurisdiction to adjudicate the merits of claims arising from non-Delaware transactions or events.”

At first glance, you might think that petitioner’s rule would lead to a patentee having to sue a defendant separately in each state across the nation. That would only be true if there was no location with general jurisdiction over the defendant – nationwide claims would still be available in any state with general jurisdiction over a defendant. In addition, the availability of multi-district litigation would streamline cases where multiple parallel lawsuits are filed.

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about_energy_black_cherry_bottle[1]The case below is Kraft Foods v. TC Heartland (D.Del.) and alleges infringement of three patents covering the packaging and contents of a flavored liquid beverage concentrate such as Kraft’s MiO water enhancer. U.S. Patent Nos. 8,293,299; 8,511,472; and 8,603,557.  TC Heartland makes its competing “Splash” water enhancers from its Carmel, Indiana HQ.

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Additional Docs:

 

TC Heartland: Statutory Interpretation, Fairness, and E.D.Texas

by Dennis Crouch

The topside briefs have been filed in TC Heartland with strong support for the petitioner who is looking to dismantle the notion of nationwide venue against accused patent infringers.  The question presented in the case is one of basic statutory interpretation of Congress’s venue statute: Whether 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) is the sole and exclusive provision governing venue in patent infringement actions and is not to be supplemented by 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c).

28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) appears to severely limit venue in patent cases to “the judicial district where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.”  Section 1391(c), however seems to broaden the definition of residence “For all venue purposes . . . (2) . . .[defendant] shall be deemed to reside … in any judicial district in which such defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction.”  Since most patent defendants are subject to nationwide personal jurisdiction, venue is then proper in any jurisdiction.

This first-level statutory interpretation seems to make TC Heartland’s case a loser. The thing is, the Supreme Court already decided what is almost the exact same case in its 1957 decision Fourco Glass (limiting patent venue) and the unusual concentration of patent cases in the E.D.Texas has certainly reached the ears of the high court in a way that may influence the outcome.

TC Heartland’s attorneys Dabney & Duffy write:

This is an extraordinary case because it presents a question of statutory interpretation that this Court specifically answered more than a half century ago.

[Petitioner’s Merits Brief: 16-341_pet-authcheckdam1]

In addition to stare decisis, the brief offers a cogent explanation that the narrower, specific interpretation makes sense and that the “for all venue purposes” phrase in the broader statute is limited by its preparatory statement “except as otherwise provided by law.”

One debate here that may arise is a question of what is the “settled law.”  The Federal Circuit broad-venue doctrine has been the approach since its 1990 VE Holdings decision.  Here, however, TC Heartland raises the little known case of  Andrews v. Hovey (1888) for the proposition that a patent statute’s interpretation “cannot be regarded as judicially settled [until] so settled by the highest judicial authority which can pass upon the question.” I wonder though, whether creation of the Federal Circuit should be seen as overruling that prior statute – likely not.

A strong set of amicus briefs have been filed in support.  Most briefs are fairly similar – arguing the statutory interpretation and that the result is bad policy / unfair.  See Bankers Brief [16-341-tsac-aba];  ABA [16-341-tsac-american-bar-association]; APP Ass’n [16-341-tsac-act]; Internet Companies and Retailers [16-341-tsac-48-internet-companies]

The only party in opposition thus far is AIPLA who argues, inter alia, that if a policy needs changed then congress should do the changing. [16-341-ac-aipla]

Although I do not expect the Federal Government (SJ) to weigh-in on the case, one interesting brief comes from a group of 17 state attorneys general, including Texas whose “citizens [have been facing] abusive claims of patent infringement, which businesses and residents confirm are a drag on economic growth.” [16-341-texas-et-al]

Without the Government Brief, Mark Lemley’s brief (on behalf of 61 professors) may be seen as the most influential.  However, I would suggest that the brief loses some amount of its “law professor” credibility by being so one-sided in its statutory construction. [16-341-tsac-61-prof-of-law] Alongside Lemley’s brief is that filed by Stanford’s IP Clinic that argues, inter alia, harm to small businesses and start-ups: “frivolous PAE litigation is negatively correlated with venture capital (VC) investment.” Implicit (and often explicit) in these briefs is the argument that E.D.Texas is supporting frivolous litigation. Stanford writes:  “The Eastern District of Texas Exhibits Abnormal Forum-Selling and Litigant Gamesmanship That Undermine the Appearance of Integrity of the Patent Litigation System.” [16-341tsacengineadvocacy] Orange County IP Law Association’s brief filed by Bill Brown raises the real argument that E.D. Texas Judges now have “de facto policy making authority.” [16-341-tsac-ocipla]; See also Unified Patents [16-341-tsac-unified-patents]

Intel and Dell also offered a strong brief filed by Donald Verrilli in his new role at Munger Tolles: All indicia of statutory meaning show that Congress narrowed patent venue in 1897 and has never expressed an intent to expand it.” [16-341tsacintelcorporation].  Following onto Intel’s intent argument, WLF explains that post-Fourco amendments by Congress should be considered “within the context of a century of special rules governing patent cases. [16-341tsacwashingtonlegalfoundation] The Intel brief also focuses on a common complaint against the Federal Circuit – that it fails to really respect and follow the principles of statutory interpretation.  Here though, the issue is failing to follow Supreme Court precedent.  Intel argues that the “Court does not depart from the doctrine of stare decisis without some compelling justification.” (quoting Hilton v. S. Carolina Pub. Rys. Comm’n, 502 U.S. 197, 201 (1991).

GiantCo GE offers some crocodile tears at the “unfairness” of the provision to nice companies like GE.  Astutely foreshadowing a likely upcoming challenge, GE also reflects that part of the problem is “the Federal Circuit’s expansive approach to personal jurisdiction [that] has further stretched the boundaries of permissible venue in patent cases.” (citations omitted). [16-341-ac-ge]

Although GE’s unfairness arguments likely fall flat, one of the best briefs is that filed by EFF who does a great job of explaining how venue’s primary concern is that of fairness and that the Federal Circuit’s interpretation completely ignores that import. [16-341-tsac-electronic-frontier-foundation]

Generic Pharma adds to the statutory construction by explaining that the venue provisions in Hatch-Waxman Act are inconsistent with the Federal Circuit’s interpretation. [16-341-tsac-generic-pharmaceutical-association]

Finally, last but not least, Chicago’s IP Law Ass’n offers its analysis that patent venue battles over the “best venue” are wasting time and would be unnecessary under Fourco. [16-341-ac-intellectual-property-law-association] [16-341-ac-appendix]

Supreme Court Patent Cases: Malpractice, Obviousness, and Venue

by Dennis Crouch

The Supreme Court will begin granting and denying petitions in early October.  Meanwhile, several new petitions are now on file.  Last week I wrote about the TC Heartland case as a mechanism for limiting venue. Without any good reason, the Federal Circuit overruled a 1957 Supreme Court case that had strictly limited patent venue as spelled out in the patent venue statute 1400(b).  See VE Holdings (explaining its overruling of Fourco Glass). A result of VE Holdings is the expansive venue availability that facilitated the rise of E.D. Texas as the most popular patent venue. TC Heartland simply asks the Supreme Court reassert its Fourco holding – something that could almost be done with a one-line opinion: “REVERSED. See Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U.S. 222 (1957).”  The best arguments for the Federal Circuit’s approach are (1) the reasoning of Fourco itself is a bit dodgy; and (2) VE Holdings is well settled doctrine (decided 26 years ago) and Congress has revised the statutory provisions several times without amending.  As a side note, several members of Congress have suggested they will act legislatively if SCOTUS fails to act.

Two new petitions (Grunenthal v. Teva and Purdue v. Epic) stem from the same Federal Circuit OxyContin case and focus on anticipation and obviousness respectively.  Grunenthal v. Teva questions how ‘inherently’ operates for anticipation purposes.   Purdue suggests that – despite the final sentence of Section 103, that the actual circumstances of the invention should be available to help prove non-obviousness (but still not be available to prove obviousness).   Another new petition includes the BPCIA case Apotex v. Amgen that serves as a complement to the pending Sandoz case questioning the requirements and benefits of providing notice of commercial marketing.

Finally – Encyclopedia Britannica v. Dickstein Shapiro is a patent prosecution malpractice action.  The lower court held the lawyers harmless since Alice would have invalidated the patents even if drafted to perfection. The petition asks whether Alice Corp can excuse patent prosecutors from alleged prosecution errors made well prior to that decision.

(more…)

TC Heartland Law Professor Amicus Brief

In TC Heartland, the accused infringer has asked the Supreme Court to reset the law of venue and give effect to the statutory statement that infringement actions be brought either (1) “in the judicial district where the defendant resides” or (2)” where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.”  28 U.S.C. § 1400(b).   In its 1957 Fourco decision, the Supreme Court affirmatively answered this question.  However, Fourco has been undermined by subsequent Federal Circuit decisions.  Thus, the question presented again is the same as what was originally asked in Fourco: “Whether 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) is the sole and exclusive provision governing venue in patent infringement actions and is not to be supplemented by 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c).”

From a policy perspective, the case is seen as a vehicle for defendants who do not like being sued in the Eastern District of Texas and into more venues perceived as more defendant friendly.

A group of 50+ law and economics professors led by Mark Lemley, Colleen Chien, Brian Love, and Arti Rai have filed an important brief in support of the TC Heartland petition that I have copied below.  Their position is (1) the Federal Circuit has erred on interpreting the law; and (2) the permissive venue result has fueled many of the problems of our patent system.

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INTEREST OF AMICI[1]

Amici are 53 professors and researchers of law and economics at universities throughout the United States. We have no personal interest in the outcome of this case, but a professional interest in seeing patent law develop in a way that encourages innovation and creativity as efficiently as possible.

SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT

28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) provides that a defendant in a patent case may be sued where the defendant is incorporated or has a regular and established place of business and has infringed the patent. This Court made clear in Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Prods. Corp., 353 U.S. 222, 223 (1957), that those were the only permissible venues for a patent case.  But the Federal Circuit has rejected Fourco and the plain meaning of § 1400(b), instead permitting a patent plaintiff to file suit against a defendant anywhere there is personal jurisdiction over that defendant.  The result has been rampant forum shopping, particularly by patent trolls. 44% of 2015 patent lawsuits were filed in a single district: the Eastern District of Texas, a forum with plaintiff-friendly rules and practices, and where few of the defendants are incorporated or have established places of business.  And an estimated 86% of 2015 patent cases were filed somewhere other than the jurisdictions specified in the statute. Colleen V. Chien & Michael Risch, Recalibrating Patent Venue, Santa Clara Univ. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-1 (Sept. 1, 2016), Table 3. This Court should grant certiorari to review the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) because the Federal Circuit’s dubious interpretation of the statute plays an outsized and detrimental role, both legally and economically, in the patent system.

ARGUMENT

1. The Federal Circuit’s Expansive and Incorrect Interpretation of 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) Allows Patentholders to Sue Anywhere in the Nation

Section 48 of the Judiciary Act of 1897 limited jurisdiction in patent cases to districts that the defendant inhabited or had a place of business and committed infringing acts. Act of March 3, 1897, c. 395, 29 Stat. 695. In 1942, this Court confirmed that “Congress did not intend the Act of 1897 to dovetail with the general provisions relating to the venue of civil suits, but rather that it alone should control venue in patent infringement proceedings.” Stonite Prods. Co. v. Melvin Lloyd Co., 315 U.S. 561, 563 (1942).

In 1948, Congress enacted 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b), specifying that “patent venue is proper in the judicial district where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.” In 1957, this Court confirmed that patent venue should not be interpreted with reference to the general jurisdiction statute, holding that “28 U.S.C. 1400(b) . . . is the sole and exclusive provision controlling venue in patent infringement actions, and that it is not to be supplemented by the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 1391(c).” Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Prods. Corp., 353 U.S. 222, 223 (1957).

In 1990, the Federal Circuit declined to apply this Court’s longstanding precedent and decided that the general venue statute should define interpretation of the patent venue statute.  It made this decision on the basis of a ministerial change Congress made in 1988 to 28 U.S.C. § 1391. VE Holding Corp. v. Johnson Gas Appliance Co., 917 F.2d 1574, 1583 (Fed. Cir. 1990). That statutory language changed the wording in 28 U.S.C. § 1391, from defining residence “for venue purposes” to defining residence “for purposes of venue under this chapter.” There was no indication that Congress intended this change to impact the patent venue statute.

The Federal Circuit’s conclusion that Congress’s ministerial change overruled this Court’s longstanding precedent is incorrect for at least two reasons.  First, it violates fundamental rules of statutory construction.  It is well-established that Congress “does not alter the fundamental details of a regulatory scheme in vague terms or ancillary provisions—it does not, one might say, hide elephants in mouseholes.” Whitman v. American Trucking Assns., Inc., 531 U.S. 457, 468 (2001) (citing MCI Telecomm. Corp. v. American Tel. & Tel. Co., 512 U.S. 218, 231 (1994); FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U.S. 120, 159-60 (2000)).

Second, the Federal Circuit’s interpretation renders the second half of § 1400(b) largely superfluous.  That section provides:

Any civil action for patent infringement may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.

The term “resides” in § 1400(b) must mean something different than having “a regular and established place of business.” Otherwise, there would have been no reason to include both provisions in the venue statute, or to link them through the disjunctive term “or.”  In Brunette, this Court, interpreting 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) as well as 28 U.S.C. § 1391(d), confirmed that where a corporation “resides” is where it is incorporated. Brunette Mach. Works v. Kockum Indus., 406 U.S. 706, n.2 (1972).

Instead of parsing § 1400(b) carefully, the Federal Circuit has chosen to read the § 1391(c)(2) definition of corporate residence for general venue purposes into the specific patent venue provision.  In relevant part, § 1391(c)(2) provides that corporate defendants:

shall be deemed to reside . . . in any judicial district in which such defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction with respect to the civil action in question . . . .

For patent infringement cases, the relevant aspect of personal jurisdiction is typically specific jurisdiction, which focuses on whether the defendant’s suit-related conduct establishes a “substantial connection” with the judicial forum in question.  Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115, 1121 (2014).  But a corporation will have established a suit-related “substantial connection” with, and thus be subject to jurisdiction in, any district in which it “has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.” So the Federal Circuit’s decision to read the § 1391(c) definition of “resid[ing]” into § 1400(b) renders the second half of the latter section superfluous as to corporations, a category which includes virtually all patent defendants.  A judicial reading that renders half of a statutory provision superfluous is strongly disfavored.  United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation, 131 S.Ct. 2313, 2330 (2011) (“‘As our cases have noted in the past, we are hesitant to adopt an interpretation of a congressional enactment which renders superfluous another portion of that same law.’” (quoting Mackey v. Lanier Collection Agency & Serv., Inc., 486 U.S. 825, 837 (1988))); Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Great Oregon, 515 U.S. 687, 698 (1995) (noting “[a] reluctance to treat statutory terms as surplusage”).

The Federal Circuit’s expansive, and we believe incorrect, interpretation of 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) effectively allows patent owners to file suit in any federal district where an allegedly infringing product is sold.  In re TC Heartland, LLC, No. 2016-105, at 10 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 29, 2016) (holding that jurisdiction is proper in a patent suit “where a nonresident defendant purposefully shipped accused products into the forum through an established distribution channel and the cause of action for patent infringement was alleged to arise out of those activities”).  The widespread availability of products over the internet means, in effect, that patentholders can bring their suits in any district in any state in the country.

2. Permissive Venue has Fueled and Enabled Forum Shopping and Selling, Patent Trolls, and Case Concentration

The Federal Circuit’s expansive interpretation of 28 U.S.C. §1400(b) has harmed the patent system in three distinct ways. It has led to forum selling and forum shopping, it has contributed to the growth of opportunistic patent litigation by patent trolls, and it has led to undue case concentration.

Patent lawyers today spend a great deal of time figuring out the best districts in which to file patent cases, and for good reason. The district in which you file your patent case has consequences for how much your case will cost, how long it will last, and whether you will prevail in court. Mark A. Lemley, Where to File Your Patent Case, 38 AIPLA Q.J. 401 (2010); Brian J. Love & James C. Yoon, Predictably Expensive: A Critical Look at Patent Litigation in the Eastern District of Texas, Stan. Tech. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming, 2016).

The choice of venue enabled by the Federal Circuit’s liberal interpretation of the statute has created an incentive for courts to differentiate themselves in order to compete for litigants and “sell” their forum to prospective plaintiffs. See J. Jonas Anderson, Court Competition for Patent Cases, 163 U. Pa. L. Rev. 631 (2015); Daniel M. Klerman & Greg Reilly, Forum Selling, 89 S. Cal. L. Rev. 241 (2016).

Among district courts, the Eastern District of Texas is the clear forum of choice for patent plaintiffs. It has been the most popular venue for patent cases in eight of the last ten years. Chien & Risch, supra at 3.  Whether intentionally or not, judges in the Eastern District of Texas have adopted rules and practices relating to case assignment, joinder, discovery, transfer, and summary judgment that attract patent plaintiffs to their district. Klerman & Reilly, supra; Matthew Sag, IP Litigation in U.S. District Courts: 1994-2014, 101 Iowa L. Rev. 1065 (2016) (detailing evidence of “forum selling” and five advantages to plaintiffs of filing suit in the Eastern District of Texas).

A study of all patent cases filed from 2014 to June 2016 quantifies some of the advantages. Love & Yoon, supra.  Compared to their colleagues across the nation, judges in the Eastern District of Texas take 150 additional days on average to rule on motions to transfer, id. at 15, and are 10 percentage points less likely to stay the case in favor of an expert adjudication on the validity of the patent by Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) in inter partes review, id. at 26., despite the fact that patents asserted in the Eastern District of Texas are challenged in inter partes review more often than patents asserted in any other district. Saurabh Vishnubhakat, Arti Rai, & Jay Kesan, Strategic Decision Making in Dual PTAB and District Court Proceedings, 31 Berkeley Tech. Law J. 45, 109 (2016).  At the same time, judges in the Eastern District of Texas have adopted discovery rules that begin earlier, end sooner, and require broader disclosure than just about anywhere else in the country. Love and Yoon, supra at 19-22 (comparing discovery and other pretrial deadlines applicable in the Eastern District of Texas and District of Delaware).  In combination, relatively early and broad discovery requirements and relatively late rulings on motions to transfer ensure that defendants sued in the Eastern District of Texas will be forced to incur large discovery costs, regardless of the case’s connection to the venue.

However, not all types of plaintiffs choose to take advantage of the leverage that these rules and procedures make possible.  Patent assertion entities (PAEs), or patent “trolls” use patents primarily to gain licensing fees rather than to commercialize or transfer technology. Colleen V. Chien, From Arms Race to Marketplace: The Complex Patent Ecosystem and Its Implications for the Patent System, 62 Hastings L.J. 297 (2010) Trolls make particular use of the advantages provided by the Federal Circuit’s permissive approach to forum shopping. Since 2014, over 90 percent of patent suits brought in the Eastern District of Texas were filed by trolls established for the purpose of litigating patent suits.  Love & Yoon, supra at 9. By contrast, operating companies, individuals, and universities are more likely to sue in other districts.  Chien & Risch, supra at 3-4, 40.

The troll business model explains this difference in behavior. As the FTC’s recent report describes, “litigation PAEs” sign licenses that are “less than the lower bounds of early stage litigation costs,” a finding “consistent with nuisance litigation, in which defendant companies decide to settle based on the cost of litigation rather than the likelihood of their infringement.” Federal Trade Commission, Patent Assertion Entity Activity: An FTC Study, https://www.ftc.gov/reports/patent-assertion-entity-activity-ftc-study.   Rather than a decision on the merits and damages commensurate with the value of patented technology, litigation PAEs instead seek to leverage the high cost of litigation to coerce nuisance-value settlements keyed not to the merits of the lawsuit, but the cost of litigation.  Mark A. Lemley & A. Douglas Melamed, Missing the Forest for the Trolls, 113 Colum. L. Rev. 2117 (2013). Further, unlike operating companies that sell products, litigation PAEs generally lack customers and regular operations and therefore have the flexibility to incorporate and file suit based solely on litigation considerations, through shell companies or otherwise.

While forum shopping in general impairs the operation of law, disadvantages those who lack the resources to engage in forum shopping, and creates economic waste, Jeanne C. Fromer, Patentography, 85 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1444, 1464-1465 (2010), the rise of the troll business model exacerbates these problems in patent litigation, creating a particularly urgent need for the Court to hear this case. This Court has previously warned against the problems of abusive patent litigation.  More than a century ago, it worried about the rise of “a class of speculative schemers who make it their business to watch the advancing wave of improvement, and gather its foam in the form of patented monopolies, which enable them to lay a heavy tax upon the industry of the country, without contributing anything to the real advancement of the arts.”  Atlantic Works v. Brady, 107 U.S. 192, 200 (1883).  And in Commil v. Cisco, this Court said:

The Court is well aware that an “industry has developed in which firms use patents not as a basis for producing and selling goods but, instead, primarily for obtaining licensing fees.” eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L. L. C., 547 U. S. 388, 396 (2006) (KENNEDY, J., concurring). Some companies may use patents as a sword to go after defendants for money, even when their claims are frivolous.

576  U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 1920 (2015).

Because troll suits now dominate patent litigation nationwide, their filing patterns have led to an overall concentration of 44% of all patent cases in the Eastern District of Texas in 2015. Among cases initiated 2014 through 2016, one U.S. District Judge on the Eastern District of Texas—Judge Rodney Gilstrap of Marshall, Texas—was assigned almost one quarter of all patent case filings nationwide, more than the total number of patent cases assigned to all federal judges in California, New York, and Florida combined.[2]

This level of concentration is a problem for the legal system whatever one thinks of the decisions of the Eastern District of Texas and regardless of how fair and capable the judges there are. Simply from a logistical standpoint, the current caseload in the Eastern District of Texas is problematic.  If even 10 percent of the 1,686 patent cases assigned to Judge Gilstrap in 2015 go to trial, he will need to preside over three to four patent trials per week every week for an entire year to avoid creating a backlog.

Further, when Congress decided to consolidate patent appeals in the newly-created United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, it deliberately chose to include both appeals from the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the district courts, so the new court would not hear only appeals from patent owners.  And it considered and rejected proposals to create a specialized district court to hear patent cases.  But the Federal Circuit’s interpretation of § 1400(b) has in practice created just such a court.

The current distribution of patent litigation filings is the result of strategic behavior by a specific type of patent enforcer, not an artifact of proximity to the original locus of invention or alleged infringement. Forum-shopping plaintiffs will naturally gravitate towards whatever district seems to have the most favorable rules. The effect of the Federal Circuit’s decision to expand patent venue beyond the scope of the statute and this Court’s decisions has been to create a de-facto specialized patent trial court, one chosen by litigants on one side rather than by Congress.

CONCLUSION

The Federal Circuit’s permissive venue rule has fundamentally shaped the landscape of patent litigation in ways that harm the patent system, by enabling extensive forum shopping and forum selling, supporting opportunistic patent litigation by patent trolls, and creating undue case concentration.  This Court should grant certiorari in order to curb abuse of venue based on its misinterpretation of § 1400(b).

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[1] No person other than the amici and their counsel participated in the writing of this brief or made a financial contribution to the brief. Letters signifying the parties’ consent to the filing of this brief are on file with the Court.

[2] According to Lex Machina, between January 1, 2014 and June 30, 2016 Judge Gilstrap was assigned 3,166 new patent suits, more than the combined total of all district courts in California, Florida, and New York: 2,656. Love & Yoon, supra, at 5 (collecting these statistics).

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Signed, Professor John R. Allison (Texas); Professor Margo Bagley (Emory); Professor James Bessen (BU); Professor Jeremy Bock (Memphis); Professor Daniel H. Brean (Akron); Professor Michael A. Carrier (Rutgers); Professor Michael W. Carroll (American); Professor Bernard Chao (Denver); Professor Tun-Jen Chiang (George Mason); Professor Colleen V. Chien (Santa Clara); Professor Andrew Chin (UNC); Professor Robert Cook-Deegan (ASU); Professor Rochelle Dreyfuss (NYU); Dr. Dieter Ernst (Honolulu); Professor Robin C. Feldman (Hastings); Professor Lee Fleming (Berkeley); Professor Brian Frye (Kentucky); Professor William Gallagher (Golden Gate); Professor Shubha Ghosh (Wisconsin); Professor Eric Goldman (Santa Clara); Professor Bronwyn H. Hall (Berkeley); Professor Yaniv Heled (Georgia State); Professor Christian Helmers (Santa Clara); Professor Joachim Henkel (Technische Universität München); Professor Susan Helper (CWRU); Professor Tim Holbrook (Emory); Professor Herbert Hovenkamp (Iowa); Professor William Hubbard (Baltimore); Dr. Xavier Jaravel (Stanford); Professor Dennis S. Karjala (ASU); Professor Peter Lee (UC Davis); Professor Mark A. Lemley (Stanford); Professor David K. Levine (WashU); Professor David S. Levine (Elon); Professor Doug Lichtman (UCLA); Professor Yvette Joy Liebesman (SLU); Professor Orly Lobel (USD); Professor Brian Love (Santa Clara); Professor Phil Malone (Stanford); Professor Michael J. Meurer (BU); Dr. Shawn Miller (Stanford); Professor Matthew Mitchell (Toronto); Professor Susan Barbieri Montgomery (Northeastern); Professor Sean Pager (Michigan State); Professor Arti K. Rai (Duke); Professor Jacob H. Rooksby (Duquesne); Professor Jorge R. Roig (Charleston); Professor Matthew Sag (Loyola Chicago); Professor Pamela Samuelson (Berkeley); Ana Santos Rutschman (DePaul); Professor Lea Bishop Shaver (Indiana); Professor John L. Turner (Georgia); Professor Jennifer Urban (Berkeley); Professor Eric von Hippel (MIT).

Venue Challenges Part 2

While law professors call for venue patent reform, the TC Heartland venue and personal jurisdiction challenge appears to still have legs.  In April 2016, the Federal Circuit rejected the mandamus action, but the Supreme Court recently granted TC Heartland’s delay petition – allowing its petition for writ of certiorari to be filed by September 12, 2016.  In the case, TC Heartland argues that the statute itself (28 U.S.C. § 1400(b)) limits where patent claims can be brought and that the Federal Circuit has unduly broadened venue in ways that harm the system.  [SCT Docket]

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28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) provides the venue requirements for patent cases – limiting proper venue to (1) “the judicial district where the defendant resides” or (2) “where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.”   This appears to be quite narrow in that few defendants actually reside or have an established place of business in the Eastern District of Texas.  The catch, however, comes in the form of 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c). That provision expansively defines the term “reside” — indicating that “except as otherwise provided by law . . . [a defendant] shall be deemed to reside . . . in any judicial district in which such defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction with respect to the civil action in question.”  Section 1391(c) appears to completely gut the limits of 1400(b) to indicate that venue is proper whenever a court has personal jurisdiction.  TC Heartland argues that the statute should be interpreted differently – namely that the express limits of 1400(b) should take precedence over the broad definition of 1391(c) as suggested by the “otherwise provided by law” exception.

 

Plano as the Venue Center for E.D.Texas

by Dennis Crouch

The Eastern District of Texas winds its way from the gulf coast along the Louisiana and Arkansas border and up to Oklahoma. The district does not include of the largest Texas cities, but it does include the Dallas suburb of Plano (we can debate whether it is a suburb, but it is). Plano is important because it is Corporate HQ for a number of large companies and also serves as regional HQ for many others. 

Plano is also supporting E.D.Tex. as an ongoing venue for patent infringement cases.

In TC Heartland (2017) the Supreme Court ruled that a patent infringement lawsuit against a US company can only be filed in a venue (1) where the defendant is registered as a corporation (i.e., “a Delaware Corporation”); or (2) a venue where the defendant “has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.”  Quoting 28 U.S.C. 1400(b).  Previously, the Federal Circuit had ruled that venue was proper in any court with personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

The new narrower venue rules have shifted the field because many prior E.D.Tex. defendants are not Texas Corporations and do not satisfy the alternate “regular and established place of business” prong of the proper venue test.  The resulting shift has been major. Prior to TC Heartland about half of patent infringement lawsuits were filed in E.D.Tex; Now the number has dropped to about 14%.

I wanted to look at who is still getting sued in E.D.Tex.  For this mini-study, I just looked at the original complaints of the 18 patent infringement lawsuits filed in E.D.Tex during the first three weeks of 2019.  Of the 18, the vast majority (two-thirds) assert venue based upon the defendant having a regular and established place of business located in Plano.  The remaining lawsuits can be broken into two different categories for venue: Three (17%) involve defendants that are residents of Texas and whose HQs are located in the District; and three more (17%) are foreign defendants who can are arguably not limited by the two-prong TC Heartland test, but rather can be sued in any jurisdiction for venue purposes. 28 U.S.C. 1391(c)(3).

Cases:

  • PlasmaCAM, Inc. v. Fourhills Designs, et al al
  • Hawk Technology Systems, LLC v. Whitesboro Independent School District
  • Ironworks Patents LLC v. AsusTek Computer Inc.
  • Rembrandt Wireless Technologies, LP v. Apple Inc.
  • ICON Health & Fitness, Inc. v. Flywheel Sports, Inc.
  • Proximity Sensors of Texas, LLC v. AMS-TAOS USA, Inc.
  • Axcess International, Inc. v. Avigilon USA Corporation
  • Beverage Packaging Solutions LLC v. PepsiCo, Inc. et al
  • Fireblok IP Holdings, LLC v. Hilti, Inc.
  • Luraco Health & Beauty LLC v. Tran et al
  • Flectere LLC v. United Parcel Service, Inc.
  • Flectere LLC v. Target Corporation
  • Flectere LLC v. FedEx Corporation
  • Flectere LLC v. Costco Wholesale Corporation
  • Akoloutheo, LLC v. Palo Alto Networks, Inc.
  • Akoloutheo, LLC v. Mitel Networks, Inc. et al
  • UnoWeb Virtual, LLC v. Open Text, Inc.
  • UnoWeb Virtual, LLC v. TBC-Monde, Inc.

BigCommerce: Venue in States with Several Districts

I previously wrote about Judge Gilstrap’s decision in BigCommerce and the somewhat complex issue of venue in multi-district states.  Even though BigCommerce is a Texas corporation, it argues that venue is improper in E.D.Tex. because the company HQ is in Austin (W.D.Tex.).  Judge Gilstrap disagreed and now Mark Lemley and his team have filed a petition for writ of mandamus to the Federal Circuit.

The issue begins with the statute – 28 U.S.C. 1400(b) states that a “civil action for patent infringement may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides…”  In TC Heartland the Supreme Court’s central holding is that “a domestic corporation ‘resides’ only in its State of incorporation for purposes of the patent venue statute.”  TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC, 137 S. Ct. 1514 (2017).  On its face, that holding might appear to settle the issue – since BigCommerce is incorporated in Texas, venue is proper in any federal court in Texas.  However, the more general holding of TC Heartland was to reaffirm the prior Supreme Court decision in Fourco and, by implication, the even earlier Stonite decision.  Stonite Products Co. v. Melvin Lloyd Co., 315 U.S. 561 (1942).

The law of Stonite: In Stonite the Supreme Court was interpreting a prior version of 1400(b), but confirmed that “an inhabitant of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania” could not be sued for patent infringement in the “in the Western District of that State” without a “regular and established place of business” in that Western District.  As I previously wrote, a major “problem with Stonite is its cryptic language and that the prior statute used the word ‘inhabitant’ instead of ‘resident.'”

Now, the question is before the Federal Circuit on mandamus:

In which judicial district(s) do domestic corporations incorporated in multidistrict states “reside” under the patent venue statute?

The plaintiff in the case – Express Mobile – has been ordered to respond to the petition by January 8.

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The patent at issue is U.S. Patent No. 6,546,397 (“the ’397 patent”), entitled “Browser Based Web Site Generation Tool and Run Time Engine.” Claim 1 is as follows:

1. A method to allow users to produce Internet websites on and for computers having a browser and a virtual machine capable of generating displays, said method comprising

(a) presenting a viewable menu having a user selectable panel of settings describing elements on a website, said panel of settings being presented through a browser on a computer adapted to accept one or more of said selectable settings in said panel as inputs therefrom, and where at least one of said user selectable settings in said panel corresponds to commands to said virtual machine;

(b) generating a display in accordance with one or more user selected settings substantially contemporaneously with the selection thereof;

(c) storing information representative of said one or more user selected settings in a database;

(d) generating a website at least in part by retrieving said information representative of said one or more user selected settings stored in said database; and

(e) building one or more web pages to generate said website from at least a portion of said database and at least one run time file, where said at least one run time file utilizes information stored in said database to generate virtual machine commands for the display of at least a portion of said one or more web pages.