SCOTUS Issues Heartland Decision

The defense venue rule in patent cases had been that suits must be brought in the state where the defendant resides or where they have committed regular acts of infringement and have a regular and established place of business. In Heartland, the Court focused on the “resides” portion of this test. In 1990 the Federal Circuit ruled that patent actions also could be initiated in any venue where the defendant conducts its business. Patent suit venues were thus treated differently for more than 25 years. No more. SCOTUS has ruled by a vote of 8-0 that the special rule for patents should be narrowed holding that its “resides” prong means wherever the domestic corporation is incorporated. SCOTUS thus has overruled the Federal Circuit’s broader rule regarding venue. Henceforth plaintiffs relying on the reside prong of the test will have to bring their actions in the defendant’s state of incorporation (which often is Delaware). The regular acts of infringement or permanent place of business prong were not affected. Until now “doing business” especially in the digital age had meant they could be brought virtually anywhere and had led to forum shopping.

Justice Thomas writing for the Court said concerning venue based on party home location as distinguished from their infringement activity: “we, therefore, hold that a domestic corporation ‘resides’ only in its State of incorporation for purposes of the patent venue statute.”

We consider this decision to be another setback for patent holders. The infringer lobby has long complained that the Eastern District Court in Marshall Texas of being a haven for patent trolls. That particular venue was not at issue in this case, but most consider that the Texas court’s conduct was what this case was about. The Marshall court both moved too fast in the opinion of anti-patent infringers and ruled too often in favor of plaintiff patent holders. Anti-patent infringers will characterize it as a setback for patent trolls, but of course, it applies to all patent suits. Stanford professor Mark Lemley authored a brief for 61 economists emphasizing these issues, reiterating the troll narrative that dangerously seems to have become the prism through which SCOTUS now views all patent cases. It could be considered the final troll abuse to be addressed and end the patent troll narrative’s repeated harm to early stage innovation. But do not expect big tech to relent. Because efficient infringement tactics traditionally include the imposition of attrition through stalling and delay, the decision is another significant loss for all under-resourced patent holders, the usual victims of the anti-patent troll narrative. Big tech still values that capacity. This decision will more likely be seen by them as an invitation to seek more anti-patent costs sanctions in Congress.

So here we go again. Senator Hatch has indicated earlier that he wants to introduce venue legislation, however, Heartland was decided. To be sure Senate Judiciary is busy but there is always time it seems for Chair Grassley to respond to the wants of Silicon Valley. The decision is below. Any bill introduced in the House for any purpose or that passes the Senate will be before the House Judiciary Committee anxious to revive portions of the Innovation Act. Rep Goodlatte’s supportive Statement (below) suggests that the Innovation Act’s punitive sanctions are still alive.

The real issue before the cost was not patent trolls or Marshall Texas. The real issue has never been about trolls at all. The troll narrative has always been the ruse used to pass bills to further protect efficient infringement by making patent assertion costly and risky. Any bill dealing with patents that reach Chairman Goodlatte’s Committee will likely attract what Rep Issa termed “modular HR 9 amendments”. Mr. Goodlatte, who authored HR 9 says below he wants ” to keep our patent laws up to date.” Because of House term limits, this is Mr. Goodlatte’s his last session as Judiciary Chair so it may be his last best chance to add his and Mr. Issa’s Innovation Act amendments to any bill reaching the House Judiciary Committee. Whatever happens in Congress, the broader problem is what appears to be a continually biased Supreme Court that will take any opportunity to respond to the troll narrative.

Stay tuned and keep talking to your delegation. Reps. Goodlatte and Issa have blamed universities for killing HR 9. They are not inclined to treat universities well. Sadly there is more to come. The brief decision is below.

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