Since deciding TS Tech, the Federal Circuit has received a gaggle of Mandamus petitions – most of them asking the appellate court to order cases transferred out of the Eastern District of Texas to more convenient locations. In a pair of opinions – both authored by Judge Linn and released on the same day – the appellate court has provided additional guidance on deciding these transfer issues.
Genentech – Transfer Granted:
- Key Witnesses: Genentech identified several witnesses in Northern California and argued it would be more convenient for them to attend trial in that locale. The district court, however gave little weight to Genentech list because the did not identify location of “key” witnesses. On appeal, the Federal Circuit held that at such an early stage of trial, it is unreasonable to require a defendant to show that potential witnesses are “more than relevant” or face denial of transfer.
- European Witnesses: Several identified witnesses would come from Europe. The Texas court held that it would be more convenient for the European witnesses to travel to Texas than to California because California is further from Europe than is Texas. Here, the district court directly followed the Fifth Circuit’s proportionality test that “[w]hen the distance between an existing venue for trial of a matter and a proposed venue under § 1404(a) is more than 100 miles, the factor of inconvenience to witnesses increases in direct relationship to the additional distance to be traveled.” On appeal, the Federal Circuit noted that the difference in distance should be given less weight when the witnesses are already traveling a great distance.
- Centralized Location: Although Texas is certainly a more central location, the Federal Circuit held that the factor could not favor a Texas venue because none of the identified witnesses reside in Texas. Rather, the court found that California is more centralized because a number of material witnesses reside within California.
- Convenience to the Parties: Genentech is in Northern California, Biogen (another defendant) is in San Diego, Sanofi (the plaintiff) is in Germany.
- Availability of Compulsory Process: If trial is in Texas, there may be several third-party witnesses that could not be compelled to attend because they are in California – outside the long-arm of Texas jurisdiction.
- Evidence: “In patent cases, the bulk of the relevant evidence comes from the accused infringer.” Here, all of Genentech & Biogen’s relevant evidence is in California.
- Prior Suit: Genentech has been a plaintiff in the Eastern District of Texas and the district court. On appeal, the Federal Circuit ruled that it would be legal error to consider a prior case that would not otherwise provide for judicial economy.
- California’s Jurisdiction over Sanofi: There is some question of whether the California court has jurisdiction over Sanofi. The Federal Circuit held that the potential lack of personal jurisdiction in the transferred venue does not weigh heavily against transfer. “There is no requirement under § 1404(a) that a transferee court have jurisdiction over the plaintiff or that there be sufficient minimum contacts with the plaintiff.”
- Court Congestion: This is a speculative factor and given little weight.
In re Volkswagen – Mandamus Denied:
- The plaintiff – MHL – is a small company headquartered in Michigan, but registered in Texas.
- In two lawsuits separate lawsuits (both in the Eastern District of Texas), MHL has sued over thirty US & Foreign automobile companies for patent infrignement.
- VW has asked that the case be transferred from the Eastern District of Texas to the Eastern District of Michigan.
- Multiple Lawsuits: The Federal Circuit identified the “existence of multiple lawsuits” involving the same patents and overlapping issues to be “a paramount consideration when determining whether a transfer is in the interest of justice. … Although these cases may not involve precisely the same issues, there will be significant overlap and a familiarity with the patents could preserve time and resources. Because the district court’s decision is based on the rational argument that judicial economy is served by having the same district court try the cases involving the same patents, mandamus is inappropriate under our precedents.”
Comment: In patent cases, these venue games tend to approach the absurd, and I am surprised that the Federal Circuit has taken these cases so seriously. Defendants want to move out of the Eastern District of Texas because they fear trial and the potential major damage award. The “convenient venue” argument is concocted because the Eastern District of Texas is clearly a “proper forum” with personal jurisdiction over the defendants.
MHL is a patent holding company that registered as a Texas business in June of 2007. That registration appears to have served its purpose – to win the Texas venue argument even though the principles of the business are all located in Michigan. On the other side – it looks like the Federal Circuit refused to consider the two most important facts of convenience in the Genentech case. First, in 2006, Genentech sued MedImmune for patent infringement in the Eastern District of Texas. At that time, Genentech calculated that Texas was perfectly suitable even though neither party was located in the state. Yet, the Federal Circuit held that it was legal error for the district court to consider Genentech’s prior activities in the present motion for Venue. The second issues is jurisdiction – it just does not make sense to transfer a case to a new forum without some assurances that the court has personal jurisdiction over the parties.
Disclaimer: I just noticed that my former firm MBHB (who is now a sponsor of Patently-O) is involved in the Genentech case. I do not represent any clients these days. One reason why I have enjoyed having MBHB as a sponsor is that the firm has never tried to exert editorial control over the blog or its content beyond the layout of the firm’s ad.