In July 2016, I discussed a letter from 45 professors arguing for statutory reforms to limit venue in patent infringement cases. The letter focused on the “staggering concentration of patent cases in just a few federal district courts” and offered the the positive conclusion that such a concentration is “bad for the patent system.” In the abstract, concentration of cases is not necessarily bad — here though, the particular arguable “badness” is that the high concentration of cases is in the Eastern District of Texas rather than Silicon Valley, New York, Chicago, or Delaware.
Now, a competing group of law professors has offered their suggestion – urging caution in terms of patent venue reform, especially with regard to the pending VENUE Act. Venue Equity and Non-Uniformity Elimination Act, S.2733, 114th Cong. (2016). The proposed VENUE Act would allow patent actions to be brought only in judicial districts where:
- the defendant has its principal place of business or is incorporated;
- the defendant has committed an act of infringement of a patent in suit and has a regular and established physical facility that gives rise to the act of infringement;
- the defendant has agreed or consented to be sued;
- an inventor named on the patent conducted research or development that led to the application for the patent in suit; or
- a party has a regular and established physical facility and has managed significant research and development for the invention claimed in the patent, has manufactured a tangible product alleged to embody that invention, or has implemented a manufacturing process for a tangible good in which the process is alleged to embody the invention.
Under the current statutory framework (as interpreted), venue is proper in any jurisdiction where the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendants. For any large company operating in the US, this current approach leads to the results that venue for a patent infringement case is proper in any federal court across the country – including those located in the Eastern District of Texas.
The new letter argues that the venue limiting proposals are basically serving as a mechanism of weakening the power of patent holders: “The reality is that the major proponents of changing the venue rules are primarily large high-tech companies and retailers with an online presence sued in the Eastern District of Texas that would rather litigate in a small number of more defendant-friendly jurisdictions.”
= = = = = =
Dear Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Leahy, Chairman Goodlatte, and Ranking Member Conyers:
As legal academics, economists, and political scientists who conduct research in patent law and policy, we write to express our concerns about the recent push for sweeping changes to patent litigation venue rules, such as those proposed in the VENUE Act. These changes would vastly restrict where all patent owners could file suit—contrary to the general rule that a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit against a corporate defendant can select any court with jurisdictional ties to the defendant.
Given the recent changes in the patent system under the America Invents Act of 2011 and judicial decisions that have effectively weakened patent rights, we believe that Congress should adopt a cautious stance to enacting additional changes that further weaken patent rights, at least until the effects of these recent changes are better understood.
Proponents of amending the venue rules have an initially plausible-sounding concern: the Eastern District of Texas handles a large percentage of patent infringement lawsuits and one judge within that district handles a disproportionate share of those cases. The reality is that the major proponents of changing the venue rules are primarily large high-tech companies and retailers with an online presence sued in the Eastern District of Texas that would rather litigate in a small number of more defendant-friendly jurisdictions.
Indeed, the arguments in favor of this unprecedented move to restrict venue do not stand up to scrutiny. Specifically:
- Proponents for the VENUE Act argue that “[t]he staggering concentration of patent cases in just a few federal district courts is bad for the patent system.” As an initial matter, data indicates that filings of patent lawsuits in the Eastern District of Texas have dropped substantially this year—suggesting a cautious approach until trends have stabilized.
- Contrary to claims by its proponents, legislative proposals like the VENUE Act would not spread lawsuits throughout the country. In fact, these same proponents have found that restricting venue in a manner similar to the VENUE Act would likely result in concentrating more than 50% of patent lawsuits in just two districts: the District of Delaware (where most publicly traded corporations are incorporated) and the Northern District of California (where many patent defendants are headquartered). Instead of widely distributing patent cases across numerous districts in order to promote procedural “fairness,” the VENUE Act would primarily channel cases into only two districts, which happen to be districts where it is considered much more difficult to enforce patent rights.
- Proponents for the VENUE Act have argued that the Eastern District of Texas is reversed more often by the Federal Circuit than other jurisdictions, claiming that in 2015 the Federal Circuit affirmed only 39% of the Eastern District of Texas’s decisions but affirmed over 70% of decisions from the Northern District of California and District of Delaware. These figures are misleading: they represent only one year of data, mix trials and summary judgment orders, and fail to take into account differences in technology types and appeals rates in each district. In fact, a more complete study over a longer time period by Price Waterhouse Coopers found that the Eastern District of Texas affirmance rate is only slightly below the national average for all districts.
- The Federal Circuit recently confirmed in In re TC Heartland (Fed. Cir. Apr. 29, 2016) that 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) provides that a corporate defendant in a patent case—like corporate defendants in nearly all other types of cases—may be sued in any district in which personal jurisdiction lies. Constitutional due process requires a “substantial connection” between the defendant and forum. Thus, contrary to its title and the claims of its proponents, the VENUE Act does not re-establish a “uniform” litigation system for patent rights by requiring substantial ties to the forum. Instead, the Act thwarts the well-established rule that plaintiffs can bring suit in any jurisdiction in which a corporate defendant has committed substantial violations of the law.
- The VENUE Act would raise costs for many patent owners by requiring them to litigate the same patent against multiple defendants in multiple jurisdictions, increasing patent litigation overall. In recent years, the America Invents Act’s prohibition on joinder of multiple defendants in a single lawsuit for violating the same patent has directly resulted in increased lawsuits and increased costs for patent owners. Moreover, the VENUE Act would also result in potentially conflicting decisions in these multiple lawsuits, increasing uncertainty and administration costs in the patent system.
- The VENUE Act encourages the manipulation of well-settled venue rules across all areas of law by the self-serving efforts of large corporate defendants who seek to insulate themselves from the consequences of violating the law. By enacting the VENUE Act, Congress would send a strong signal to corporate defendants that they can tilt the substantive playing field by simply shifting cases to defendant-friendly jurisdictions.
Innovators and their investors have long been vital to a flourishing innovation economy in the United States. Startups, venture capitalists, individual inventors, universities, and established companies often rely heavily on patents to recoup their extensive investments in both R&D and commercialization. We urge you to exercise caution before enacting further sweeping changes to our patent system that would primarily benefit large infringers to the detriment of these innovators and, ultimately, our innovation economy.
 S.2733, Venue Equity and Non-Uniformity Elimination Act of 2016, https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/s2733/BILLS-114s2733is.pdf.
 See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c)(2). See generally Ferens v. John Deere Co., 494 U.S. 516, 527 (1990) (“a plaintiff . . . has the option of shopping for a forum with the most favorable law”).
 These include, among others: (1) administrative procedures for invalidating patents created by the America Invents Act, which have had extremely high invalidation rates, leading one former federal appellate judge to refer to these procedures as “death squads,” and (2) several decisions by the Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit that have drastically curtailed patent rights for many innovators. See Adam Mossoff, Weighing the Patent System: It Is Time to Confront the Bias against Patent Owners in Patent ‘Reform’ Legislation, Washington Times, March 24, 2016, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/mar/24/adam-mossoff-weighing-the-patent-system/.
 Colleen Chien & Michael Risch, A Patent Reform We Can All Agree On, Wash. Post, June 3, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/11/20/why-do-patent-lawyers-like-to-file-in-texas/.
 See Michael C. Smith, “Hot But No Longer Boiling“ – EDTX Patent Case Filings Down almost Half; New Case Allocation and Procedures (No More Letter Briefing for SJ motions), EDTexweblog.com, July 21, 2016, http://mcsmith.blogs.com/eastern_district_of_texas/2016/07/edtx-patent-case-filing-trends-new-case-allocation-and-procedures.html.
 Colleen Chien & Michael Risch, What Would Happen to Patent Cases if They Couldn’t all be Filed in Texas?, Patently-O, March 11, 2016, https://patentlyo.com/patent/2016/03/happen-patent-couldnt.html. This study also finds that 11% of cases would continue to be filed in the Eastern District of Texas, concentrating nearly two-thirds of all cases in three districts. See id. The authors of this study are presently expanding their investigation to an enlarged data set, which will also capture additional aspects of the VENUE Act. Neither the data nor their results are available yet. However, we have no reason to believe that the expanded data or analysis will produce results other than what has already been shown: a high concentration of patent cases in a small number of districts.
 See PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, 2015 Patent Litigation Study (May 2015) (“PWC Study”), http://www.pwc.com/us/en/forensic-services/publications/assets/2015-pwc-patent-litigation-study.pdf.
 Ryan Davis, EDTX Judges’ Love of Patent Trials Fuels High Reversal Rate, Law360 (Mar. 8, 2016), http://www.law360.com/articles/767955/edtx-judges-love-of-patent-trials-fuels-high-reversal-rate.
 See PWC Study, supra note 7 (finding an average affirmance rate of 48% for all districts, compared to an affirmance rate of 42% for the Eastern District of Texas).
 See Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475 (1985).
 See generally Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508 (1947) (“[T]he plaintiff’s choice of forum should rarely be disturbed.”).
 See Christopher A. Cotropia, Jay P. Kesan & David L. Schwartz, Unpacking Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs), 99 Minnesota Law Review 649 (2014), http://www.minnesotalawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/REVISEDSchwartzetal_MLR.pdf.