TC Heartland, Kraft Foods Case Makes Waves in Patent Community

This case threatens patent owners’ ability to seek out favorable courts.

Last week, Whirlpool filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Kraft Foods in TC Heartland, LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands, LLC. At the end of last year, the Supreme Court agreed to hear TC Heartland’s appeal, seeking restrictions on where patent lawsuits can be filed. TC Heartland argues that patent suits should only be filed in places where the defendant is incorporated or has an established place of business and has allegedly infringed.

This case is making waves in the patent community, as it threatens patent owners’ ability to seek out favorable courts, particularly the rocket docket in the Eastern District of Texas. Keker, Van Nest & Peters’s Gene Paige sat down with Inside Counsel to discuss the developing TC Heartland case and how patent litigation may change in the U.S.  

Whirlpool’s brief argues that it is an operating company that practices its own patents and does not seek to license those patents in return for royalty payments, according to Paige. But, it explains that it appreciates the ability to file patent infringement suits against alleged infringers in the Eastern District of Texas. The brief seeks to dispel the notion that the only entities that seek to file patent infringement suits in the Eastern District of Texas are patent trolls that are seeking to extract royalty payments from operating companies. 

“The case has been of significant interest to the patent community because of the potential that exists for a much more stringent limitation on venue for patent infringement actions than exists today,” he said. “For the past few decades, the Federal Circuit’s interpretation of the various statutes on venue have permitted patentees to file suit in essentially any venue where personal jurisdiction over a corporate defendant would be proper.”

The interpretation by the petitioner would restrict venue to districts in which the defendant is incorporated or in which the defendant has a regular place of business and has committed acts of infringement. If the petitioner’s statutory interpretation is accepted, proper venue for a patent case would turn on where a defendant is incorporated and where it has a regular place of business and has committed acts of infringement. 

He said, “This would mean that, for example, a patentee would not be able to maintain venue for an infringement suit in its own home district if the defendant is not incorporated in that district and does not have a regular and established place of business there.”

So, how could patent litigation change in the U.S.? 

Today, patent suits are measure concentrated in a few jurisdictions, according to Paige. Depending on what it means to have a regular and established place of business, restrictions on proper venue for patent infringement actions of the sort urged by the petitioner could mean that some of those jurisdictions would no longer be available as a proper venue. 

Paige explained, “This might lead to patent suits being filed in increasing numbers in courts that had seen relatively few patent suits in recent years, or, depending on the state of incorporation of the defendant, might result in an already popular venue for patent infringement actions, Delaware, becoming even more popular.”

Further reading:

Why Trademarking a Scent is Actually Really Hard

Target Corp. Puts FTC's 'Made in USA' Claims to Bed

Protecting Trade Secrets When Employees Leave the Company

The "Star Model" of Litigation is Rapidly Evolving

Contributing Author

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Amanda Ciccatelli

Amanda G. Ciccatelli is a Freelance Journalist for InsideCounsel, where she covers intellectual property, legal technology, patent litigation, cybersecurity, innovation, and more. She earned a B.A....

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