Federal Judge Seeks Patent Cases

by J. Jonas Anderson & Paul R. Gugliuzza

Click here for a PDF file of this article

Abstract

That probably seems like a bizarre Craigslist ad. It’s not real—we mocked it up for this article. Still, and startlingly, it accurately portrays what’s happening in the Waco Division of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. One judge, appointed to the Western District only three years ago, has been advertising his courtroom through presentations to patent lawyers, comments to the media, procedural practices, and decisions in patent cases as the place to file a patent infringement lawsuit. That advertising has succeeded. In 2016 and 2017, the Waco Division received a total of five patent cases. In 2020, nearly eight hundred patent cases—more than 20 percent of all patent cases nationwide—were filed there.

The centralization of patent cases before a single judge, acting entirely on his own to seek out patent litigation, is facilitated by the Western District’s case filing system, which allows plaintiffs to choose the specific judge who will hear their case. These dynamics—a judge advertising for patent cases and plaintiffs shopping for that judge— undermine public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary, make the court an uneven playing field for litigants, and facilitate the nuisance suits patent trolls favor. Two common-sense reforms would reduce the harms of judge shopping: (1) district judges should, by law, be randomly assigned to cases, and (2) venue in patent cases should be tied to divisions within a judicial district, not just the district as a whole.

Federal Judge Seeks Patent Cases

by J. Jonas Anderson & Paul R. Gugliuzza

Click here for a PDF file of this article

Abstract

That probably seems like a bizarre Craigslist ad. It’s not real—we mocked it up for this article. Still, and startlingly, it accurately portrays what’s happening in the Waco Division of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. One judge, appointed to the Western District only three years ago, has been advertising his courtroom through presentations to patent lawyers, comments to the media, procedural practices, and decisions in patent cases as the place to file a patent infringement lawsuit. That advertising has succeeded. In 2016 and 2017, the Waco Division received a total of five patent cases. In 2020, nearly eight hundred patent cases—more than 20 percent of all patent cases nationwide—were filed there.

The centralization of patent cases before a single judge, acting entirely on his own to seek out patent litigation, is facilitated by the Western District’s case filing system, which allows plaintiffs to choose the specific judge who will hear their case. These dynamics—a judge advertising for patent cases and plaintiffs shopping for that judge— undermine public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary, make the court an uneven playing field for litigants, and facilitate the nuisance suits patent trolls favor. Two common-sense reforms would reduce the harms of judge shopping: (1) district judges should, by law, be randomly assigned to cases, and (2) venue in patent cases should be tied to divisions within a judicial district, not just the district as a whole.