Patently newsworthy

The SE Texas Record Jun. 9, 2007, 7:00am

Once best-known as the birthplace of boxing champion-turned-pitchman George Foreman, Marshall is 25,000-strong and landlocked, four hours due north of Beaumont and 20 minutes east of the Louisiana border.

Among smallish East Texas towns, it's generally unremarkable.

That is, except for its burgeoning federal court, which has built such a reputation as to make Marshall a household name the world over. We're not kidding.

Call it old news to legal eagles from places like Houston and Dallas. But there's hardly a technology brand you could name that hasn't been sued in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. The game is intellectual property-- patent law-- and the protagonist is Judge John T. Ward, whose "rocket docket" has attracted hundreds of plaintiffs looking for an edge.

The result: these days, little Marshall sees more lawsuits alleging patent infringement than venues like Chicago, New York and San Francisco. All told, it sees the second-most such filings of any courthouse in the U.S., after the Central California District Court in Los Angeles.

Alas, beginning this week, The Record is expanding its news coverage to include civil filings in the federal district court divisions in Marshall and Tyler. The defendants will look familiar-- they're often household companies being sued for making the products you use every single day. As for the plaintiffs, ferreting out their origins and motives will take some deeper research.

Consider the June 6 patent infringement suit filed against 43 mobile phone companies, including Motorola, Nokia, Sprint Nextel, and Verizon. A company named Minerva Industries Inc. claims they have all infringed on a patent it claims to hold on mobile phones.

That's not just a specific kind of mobile phone, but all of them. You haven't heard of Minerva, but it claims to have invented the mobile phone concept. And it's demanding Motorola and the others pay it a just due royalty on every one sold in the U.S., from now until eternity.

Sounds like a brewing Battle Royale to us, and one with ramifications for anyone who likes to talk on the run. On this case and others like it, from here forward we'll do our best to give you a front row seat. Stay tuned.

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