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. 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). 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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- Heartland.Acushnet (Supporting petitioner)
- Heartland.EFF (Supporting petitioner)
- Heartland.USInventors (Supporting respondent)
Discussions of the Case.
- NYU law
- The Legal Intelligence
- Prof Michael Risch on Written Description
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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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 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.”
 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.”