The primary defendant in a major patent case pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware has requested a delay of its scheduled trial due to concerns about conducting an in-person trial while COVID-19 rages on.
3G Licensing sued LG Electronics and others more than four years ago, alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,212,662. The patent concerns a method and devices for detecting transmission errors in data streams. Trial is scheduled for April, but in a letter to the court LG’s counsel worried about the ability to get a representative jury in the midst of a pandemic.
Courts have struggled to deal with trials during the coronvirus surge, with most delaying in-person trials or attempting to conduct them over video. Notwithstanding tireless efforts to assure due process and transparency for all parties, reactions to the videoconferenced trials have been mixed. At some point this year, courts should return in earnest to in-person trials (and will likely have a serious backlog to deal with). But it’s not fully clear whether that moment will come as soon as April.
A federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia has ordered a patent infringement trial to proceed as scheduled on May 6. The entire trial will be conducted through the Zoom videoconferencing platform. It is expected to take about three weeks.
Plaintiff Centripetal Networks, Inc. alleges that Cisco Systems is infringing five of its patents for network technology. The case was filed in early 2018.
Cisco opposed the Zoom trial, arguing first that it would expose its proprietary technology to the public, and second that if the trial were to go forward via videoconference, it would be safer to hold it through Webex rather than Zoom. Cisco owns the Webex platform. The court rejected both arguments.
Earlier this month, a Texas state court held a one-day bench trial via Zoom. But this is a much more complex case, involving multiple claims, patents, and witnesses. If it proves successful, it may open the door to many more bench trials being conducted remotely. If the court and parties encounter major technical glitches, however, it may set back the movement for remote trials considerably.
For many years, plaintiffs in patent infringement cases flocked to the Eastern District of Texas, spurred by welcoming judges, rocket docket scheduling, and a belief that they would find plaintiff-friendly juries. Defendants in the same cases naturally chafed at having to defend in the Eastern District, especially when there was little, if any, connection between that location and the allegedly infringing activity. This led to hundreds of defense motions to transfer venue to another federal district court–motions that were usually denied by the local judges who wanted to keep the cases in their district. The Eastern District dominated the national patent docket, with well over a thousand infringement cases filed in the district each year.
That all changed last year, when the Supreme Court’s in TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods read the federal venue statutes to severely limit where patent infringement cases could be brought. No longer could a plaintiff assert a reasonable connection to the Eastern District of Texas just because some defendant sold an allegedly infringing product there. Unsurprisingly, the new restrictions have led to a drastic drop in filings in the Eastern District, and a growth in filings in the District of Delaware (where many business defendants are incorporated), among other venues.
It will be interesting to see where things settle in the coming years.
IP Watchdog has an excellent breakdown. And this part of the analysis seems spot on:
Past litigation reports from Lex Machina have pointed to the fact that volatility in patent case filings are typically triggered by changes to the patent system, or even just proposed changes. Spikes in patent litigation have closely preceded changes like the abrogation of Form 18 to plead patent infringement in district court as well as the enactment of provisions of the America Invents Act. Given the fact that the debate on patent reform isn’t currently reverberating in Congress the way it has in recent years, it’s possible that the recent downturn in high-volume plaintiff filings is due to calmer waters in the patent system. The next foreseeable change to the U.S. patent system stem from the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods Group Brands, so it will be interesting to see if the court’s ruling in that case creates any similar volatility in case filings.