What’s the Best Court For Your Patent Infringement Suit? The Answer May Have Just Changed
From the moment he first took the bench in the Waco Division of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas four years ago, Judge Alan Albright made it known that he welcomed the filing of patent cases in his court. Plaintiffs’ lawyers quickly took him up on that offer. In short order, Judge Albright’s court became the Number One destination for patent cases, now handling almost one quarter of all U.S. patent cases. As the result of a striking development by the District’s Chief Judge, that may soon change.
The Western District of Texas assigns cases to judges based on the division in which the case is filed, and because Judge Albright is the only Article III judge in Waco, cases filed there automatically get assigned to him. This proved attractive to plaintiffs for several reasons:
- First, it provides certainty as to who will preside over the case, something not generally available in other districts where cases are randomly assigned.
- Second, Judge Albright sets very ambitious case schedules, which is perceived to favor plaintiffs.
- Third, Judge Albright rarely stays cases to allow for the completion of co-pending inter partes reviews, which gives plaintiffs one less thing to worry about.
- Fourth, until the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals intervened, Judge Albright typically did not allow the transfer of cases to districts closer to the defendant’s place of business; although he now appears more open to transferring cases, defendants still face challenges in bringing a successful motion to transfer.
- Finally, while Judge Albright is generally an even-handed judge, there remains a belief among many that his is a “plaintiff-friendly” court.
On July 25, 2022, this calculus changed with the stroke of a pen by the Chief Judge of the Western District of Texas, Orlando Garcia. In an Order Assigning the Business of the Court as it Relates to Patent Cases, Judge Garcia directed that, starting immediately, all cases involving patents that are filed in the Waco Division “shall be randomly assigned” to any one of 12 judges in the district. Accordingly, a plaintiff filing a patent case in Waco has only an 8% chance of ending up before Judge Albright. The effects of this Order were immediately apparent: of the two patent cases filed in Waco on July 25, one was assigned to Judge Albright, the other to Judge Alia Moses in Del Rio.
The possible impact of Chief Judge Garcia’s Order will likely be significant. Without the assurance of having their cases assigned to Judge Albright, plaintiffs may look elsewhere to file. At the same time, with the Supreme Court’s 2017 Heartland decision sharply limiting where patent cases can be venued, many plaintiffs may have few options as to where they can properly file a case. Patent litigators and their clients will undoubtedly keep a close eye on how this plays out.