In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a unanimous decision in favor of TC Heartland, an Indiana-based company challenging the venue Kraft Foods had chosen for filing a patent infringement lawsuit against it. The ruling limited patent infringement lawsuits to districts where the defendant is incorporated or has an established place of business.
Intellectual property firm Morrison & Foerster summed up the decision’s potential impact on our region this way: “The High Court put a dent in plaintiffs’ long-established freedom to shop for the venue of their choosing when pressing patent infringement claims – potentially dealing a blow to the Eastern District of Texas’s prominence in hearing patent cases.”
It dealt a blow, all right. In 2016, the year before the TC Heartland decision, nearly 1,700 patent lawsuits were filed in the Eastern District. In 2017, the year of the decision, roughly half as many were filed. Last year, there were just over 500.
Though things have improved dramatically overall, the 500 defendants targeted with patent suits last year have little reason to celebrate. Apple, for instance, got hit with 11 suits in 2016, 19 or so in 2017, and eight last year. Last April, an Eastern District jury rendered a $500 million verdict against the company.
Tired of being targeted, Apple will soon shutter its stores in Plano and Frisco and open a new store outside our district at the Galleria Dallas Shopping Mall. Given the TC Heartland decision, the company’s exodus from our jurisdiction should immunize it against suits subsequently filed here.
“Apple’s recent decision to close two stores located in the Eastern District and open a store outside of its jurisdiction underscores the need for legislation to limit patent trolls,” says Texas Republican Congressman Michael Burgess, who recently reintroduced his TROL Act, classifying dubious accusations of patent infringement as unfair or deceptive practices subject to prosecution.
Burgess describes his proposed legislation as “a commonsense solution that would protect Americans’ intellectual property and expand their opportunity to innovate.” Anyone with common sense should support it.