Magazine article Information Today

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Magazine article Information Today

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Article excerpt

Marshall, Texas, with a population of 25,000, is about 150 miles east of Dallas. Known for the headquarters of the Texas and Pacific Railway and as the birthplace of "boogie-woogie," for the last 15 years it has also been known as one of the unlikely centers for patent infringement lawsuits in the U.S. Published reports indicate that in 2016, more than one-third of the 4,500-plus patent infringement lawsuits filed nationwide in the federal courts were filed in the Marshall-based U.S. District Court's Eastern District of Texas (www.txed.uscourts.gov).

A patent infringement lawsuit is based on the assertion by a patent owner--the plaintiff in the lawsuit--that some other person or company has infringed or illegally used a patent that the plaintiff owns. The other person or company--the defendant in the lawsuit--may respond that the relevant activities do not actually use the patent in question or that the patent is not valid. Either way, absent a settlement, the parties must battle these issues out in court.

Jurisdiction and Venue

Selecting where this battle will take place involves the related legal concepts of jurisdiction and venue. Jurisdiction is the authority of a particular court system over a particular dispute and focuses both on the issue and the parties involved. Under U.S. law, all patent infringement issues and disputes are under the jurisdiction of the federal, as opposed to state, courts.

The federal court system has a geographic component, with trials being held at federal district courts, which are arranged regionally. Every state has at least one federal district court, and larger states may have several. Texas has four: Eastern, Western, Northern, and Southern.

Personal Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction of a specific federal district court over the parties to a lawsuit is a bit more complicated and includes a similar geographic component. In order for a particular district to have jurisdiction over both the plaintiff and defendant--known as personal jurisdiction--the parties must have some connection to that district. An incident happening within the district or the parties residing, owning property, or doing business in the district are all the types of connections that can establish jurisdiction for a case.

If more than one district has jurisdiction, then it becomes a matter of selecting the venue--the court in which the case will be tried. Usually, the plaintiff will choose the court, and provided that court also has both personal and issue jurisdiction, that's where the trial will be held. The plaintiff's selection may be based on convenience or on local practices of the court that the plaintiff believes may be favorable to its case.

Speedy Trials

This leads us back to Marshall, Texas, and its popularity as the venue for patent cases. In the late '90s, the Eastern District of Texas modified its local rules to speed up the trial process, but also to make it more challenging to end the case without trial. Both moves were seen as favoring plaintiffs, as is the district's reputation for plaintiff-friendly juries.

In addition, an interpretation of the two statutes that govern personal jurisdiction in patent cases--Title 28, sections 1391 and 1400 of the U.S. Code (law.comell.edu/uscode)--determined that the rules over what constitutes doing business in a particular district were very broad, including product sales or similar transactions. …

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