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, 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|
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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 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