Richard Lloyd of IAM recently published a great article regarding the emergence of Waco as a top patent litigation forum (see https://www.iam-media.com/litigation/plaintiffs-are-flocking-ips-hottest-new-district-recent-changes-suggest-defendants). However, while we do not yet have a huge number of cases (I am hoping to change that substantively as well as with analysis here on the blog), I believe Waco is, without a doubt, the best place to file a patent litigation in the US.
Richard quotes my friend, Michael Smith, oracle of all things EDTEX, as pointing out several potential drawbacks of Waco. First, as anyone practicing in WDTX knows, discovery is limited until after claim construction. While this can be a drawback in certain circumstances, limiting (but not eliminating) discovery pre-Markman is smart, and helps limit costs for small business and NPE plaintiffs while they wait to get their claim construction. As someone that regularly represents “the little guy,” spending millions of dollars in time and money on reviewing discovery that, for the most part, will not affect the trial is wasteful. I learned how to work and try a case from my mentor, Sam Baxter, who taught me (especially in contingent-fee cases) to focus on the things that matter at trial. Large defendants will try to get small inventors and NPEs (and their counsel) to focus on other things, but if it is not needed for trial, then it is a waste of resources. Without hordes of lawyers that literally get paid to be inefficient, the little guys need to keeps their eye on the ball. And as anyone that has tried more than a few patent cases knows, only a few documents obtained in discovery are even remotely useful. Sam told me that we should be able to try the case the day we file it, and I have found that advice remarkably wise and productive. Limiting discovery to those things that are actually needed pre-Markman helps do that.
Plus, Judge Albright is a smart, common-sense judge, just as he was a smart, common-sense patent litigator before taking the bench. If something is truly necessary for your case, you will likely get it. Common-sense discovery rules are a good thing.
Second, Michael points out that parties are, absent prejudice, allowed to amend their infringement and invalidity contentions until several weeks after the Markman hearing. While less than ideal in some cases, because no one likes unpredictability, I don’t see this as a major problem, so long as the judge allows the jury to hear about the amendment and timing. Again, this is all about the jury, and unlike most courts these days, Waco allows the patentee to get their case to a jury in a timely manner.
While we’re talking about timing, perhaps the greatest advantage of filing in Waco is that patent owners will not have their cases stayed pending IPR. This is golden. In most courts around the country, the litigation is stayed for 12 to 24 months while the defendants throw darts as the patents via the PTAB. In addition to being remarkably unfair, it increases the cost and time of litigation for the plaintiff. This is particularly painful for small companies and individuals, who have to come up with between a $200K to $1M before they even get to step into court. This can be fatal for many folks. Let’s face it, few inventors have $500K lying around to wait until the USPTO agrees that the patent that they already granted is actually valid.
Lastly, the article points out that many hearings are taking place in Austin. Also, Judge Albright has made at least one inter-divisional transfer of a case from Waco to Austin. This is because the Judge’s son is completing high school in Austin this year. Judge Albright is often making the oh-so-beautiful drive up and down I-35 and there is no reason not to have hearings in Austin. In fact, as mentioned on this blog, Judge Albright encourages the parties to submit briefing via audio file so that he can listen to the while he drives back and forth. The Austin-centric portion of Judge Albright’s hearing schedule will likely diminish as Judge settles into his new home in Waco. In any case, again, I don’t see this as a problem, even if trials were to be held in Austin. Yes, many of the defendants are sued in Waco because they have a significant presence in Austin. However, I don’t see a jury being unfair to a patentee because Apple or any other large company has an office in Austin. Don’t get me wrong, I like the jury pool in Waco. But Austin is just not that bad, even if you have to have your case there.
Ultimately, patent owners that file in Waco know which judge they will get, because there is only one: Judge Albright. He is a capable, fair, and practical judge, which is why defendants don’t like Waco. It’s not that Waco is unfair, it is that Waco is fair to both sides. Big infringers don’t like this. But I (Erick) do. And so do patent owners starved for a forum to give them a fair opportunity to present their case to a jury.
Recently, David had the chance to interview the Honorable Alan D. Albright. In this Q&A with Judge Albright, the Waco Patent Blog hopes to provide practitioners in Judge Albright's court with some useful guidance and practice pointers.
WPB: Judge, many have taken note of your invitation to submit audio recordings for briefs. Are there any pointers that you would like to share with parties and their counsel?
Judge: First of all, there is no requirement to submit an audio file. I do find that it is helpful to have an audio version of a brief, but, with or without it, by the time for any action on my part I will have read every written brief that the parties submit. I certainly will not penalize any party for not providing an audio file. If a party does submit a file, it needs to be as an MP3 or Dropbox file. Also, I would prefer that the reader not speak out case citations, but rather simply say something like “see case”. Again, I will have read all of the written documents and the cited authorities.
WPB: Do you have any other “nuts and bolts”, brief-related suggestions for parties before your court?
Judge: Because I tend to write all of my own orders and opinions, and it is often useful to excerpt certain passages from the parties’ filings, I would appreciate receiving Word versions of motions and briefs. Counsel can email those to my law clerk.
WPB: When the inevitable discovery and other procedural disputes arise, how would you prefer that the attorneys approach the issue in your court?
Judge: I was in litigation practice for many years. I understand that counsel needs to protect their client’s interests, and that disputes will arise. I do not penalize attorneys or their clients for disagreeing. At the same time, I want to resolve disputes as quickly, fairly and efficiently as possible. So, I encourage counsel for all parties to simply call my chambers when a reasonable dispute arises. At that time, or as soon as I am available, I will resolve a reasonable dispute – have no problem doing that. At the same time, I do not want to get a call about petty disputes, the resolution of which would be apparent to any reasonable attorney.
WPB: While you obviously have any number of other kinds of cases, your patent docket seems to have received the most attention, nationally. Do you have any practice pointers with respect to the pivotal Markman hearings in your patent cases?
Judge: There are several features of my Markman hearings that parties would likely want to know. Unless the case is a multiple patent one, parties can expect one-half day for the Markman hearing. I have not yet found a case that required any more than that, though I do not at this time have an arbitrary argument time limit, either for parties or for any given claim term. With respect to argument, I will want to hear argument from both sides as to each disputed claim term, before moving to the next term. If a party is urging “plain and ordinary meaning”, I will want to first hear from the party that urges other than “plain and ordinary meaning”. While this may seem self-evident, I would like for at least one party to bring physical copies of the patent or patents at issue. I recently held a Markman hearing in which I was forced, because of a technical issue, to read the patent on my smart phone. I would also appreciate the parties bringing a simple list of the claim terms that are at issue. I’ve had cases in which the briefing actually left it unclear about what terms the parties were actually in disagreement. Finally, I want the parties to know that my goal is to reach the right claim construction, not to conform to any artificial structure for argument or time limits. I do not want to hear parties repeatedly arguing and re-arguing the same points over-and-over, especially once it is clear that we have exhausted all credible arguments and I have reached my conclusions, but I am happy to hear whatever counsel believe that I should hear until we reach that point.
WPB: Your standing order provides for tutorials. Do you have any pointers or preferences that you would like to share about tutorials?
Judge: As with audio files, tutorials are not required, but they can be very helpful in some cases. They are most helpful to me when they are structured in a way that explains, as simply as possible, what problem an embodiment of the claimed invention solves, and how it does it. I am not looking, for example, for just another way for a party to somehow support a claim construction position. Also, note that tutorials will not be on the record.
WPB: Your standing order for patent cases provide a clear structure and sequence for patent cases in your court. Do you have anything to add with respect to your prescribed procedures and schedules for parties to consider as they begin a patent case.
Judge: Yes, actually. As I have said in about every forum in which I have had the chance, my goal is to provide a venue in which every party knows that they have had their day in court, have had every opportunity to present their case, have been treated fairly, and have had every opportunity to do all of this in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. Consistent with that, I not only do not mind, but encourage counsel to suggest alternative proceedings, sequences and schedules that depart from my default arrangements, if they believe that it makes sense for their case. If I agree, I will adjust accordingly.
WPB: Thank you for your time today, Judge. I think that this information will further help parties and their counsel appreciate the opportunity that both bringing and defending a patent case in your court represents for their clients.
We will be listing new patent cases filed in Waco on a weekly basis. We are a little behind, so here are the cases that have been filed from the beginning of June through today, June 21. Click the image for a downloadable PDF.
Look for our Q&A with Judge Albright next week as well as statistics regarding how quickly cases are moving. Viva la Waco!
We are about to have some really exciting content, including a Q&A with Judge Albright on some of the topics about which our readers are asking! At least part one of the Q&A will be posted no later than early next week.
For now, I wanted to post some more interesting stats about the patent cases that have been filed in Waco.
Here are the patent plaintiffs in heatmap and pie chart form:
...and here are the defendants:
Here are the law firms representing patent clients in the Waco Division:
And the attorneys:
Cases by subject patent IPC:
Cases by subject patent CPC:
...and cases by subject patent US Class:
That's all for now. Check here often for updates, and don't forget next week's Q&A with the judge! Feel free to subscribe by email.
Thanks for coming by! We wanted to give everyone a snapshot of how many cases are currently in front of Judge Albright, and we will continue to track this. The statistics we use are from Lex Machina. For now, let's get straight to the statistics!
As you can see, Waco is the land of patents and products liability. This makes sense given Judge Albright's technical acumen:
Those are the total cases. Here are the open cases before Judge Albright:
Here are the cases filed by year (keep in mind that Judge Albright received his judicial commission on September 10, 2018, and was sworn in by Chief Judge Orlando Luis Garcia on September 18, 2018):
Of the cases brought before Judge Albright, 148 (44%) remain pending, while 190 (56)% have been terminated:
Although we are still early in Judge Albright's tenure, of the 190 of the cases in his court have been terminated, the median time to termination is 72 days. By the one-year point, 87.4% of the cases in his court have been terminated. This bodes well for parties seeking swift and efficient access to the courts.
Compared to other Western District of Texas courts, Judge Albright's court is already the "king of patents." Also, compared to other WDTX judges, Judge Albright's court handles a lot of products liability cases:
His court is handling an comparatively large (compared to other WDTX judges) number of trade secret, trademark, and copyright cases as well:
Finally, in what we plan to be a weekly report on new patent cases filed in Waco, here are the patent cases filed in Judge Albright's court since May 24:
That's it for now. Please contact us if you have any questions, comments, or have ideas for what you would like us to cover in future posts! Thanks for reading!
The Honorable Alan D. Albright was sworn in, as District Judge of the Western District of Texas, Waco Division in September of 2018. Both authors of this blog attended the investiture ceremony Judge Albright on May 1 at the Baylor Club at McLane Stadium in Waco. In addition, one of us (David) was on the Investiture Committee.
Judge Albright previously served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Austin Division of the Western District of Texas. However, from 1999 to 2018, he was in private practice, predominantly as a patent litigator with the firm of Bracewell LLP, and was admitted to the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers. As a result, Judge Albright arrives at the bench as one of the most patent litigation-experienced jurists in the United States. This experience (and the desire to apply it in the Waco court), combined with a recent paradigm shift in the application of venue rules for patent cases (arising from the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent TC Heartland case), has the potential to yield a truly historic transformation for the Waco Court. Judge Albright is actively working to make that transformation a reality.
Numerous technology and other sizeable companies reside in, or have a substantial presence in the Western District of Texas, perhaps most notably including those in Waco’s nearby neighbor city of Austin, Texas. Even with, and perhaps because of, the venue-related constraints from the TC Heartland case, some in the patent litigation field view the Western District of Texas as a new, viable venue for many patent cases.
Judge Albright shares the view that the Waco Court could well become one of the nation’s patent litigation hubs. Both authors of this blog fully expect Waco, as a court with a patent litigation-experienced and knowledgeable Court and staff, with local rules and practices that are both balanced and lawyer-friendly, and with a docket load that will afford parties flexibility in trial settings, will quickly become a top patent litigation docket.
Judge Albright has stated that he "will design my standing orders and other court practices in such a way that patent cases, and all cases in my court, will run smoothly and cost-effectively. I want to provide a venue in which everyone in a case knows that they got a fair shake. Basically, I want to provide the most desirable venue option possible for lawyers and litigants alike, regardless of their side of the docket.” In his approach in steering the Waco court in such a direction, Judge Albright is seeking to innovate and to be flexible in many ways that may depart from fellow jurists’ practices, or at least from the perspectives of practicing litigators of some other courts.
“I do not at all mind when parties, for example bring their discovery disputes to me,” Judge Albright explains. “Some litigants fear bringing legitimate, pre-trial disputes to a court, for fear of receiving more punishment than relief. That will not happen in my court.”
Other features of his planned local practices include: (1) invitations to submit audio renditions of briefs for his listening before hearings; (2) adaptive case management conference arrangements that, only when apparently beneficial, will invite party representative participation, but also allows for telephonic participation for party and attorney convenience; (3) encouraging younger lawyers’ argument and other trial and hearing participation; (4) allowing parties to select their trial dates, as well as significant input in scheduling order deadlines; and (5) fashioning contextually-adaptive, early disclosures to avoid wasted briefing and delays.
On the personal side of matters, Judge Albright is very pleased to assume his role in Waco, Texas.
“I have found the Waco community to be particularly welcoming, generous and friendly, even when people I meet have no idea that I am a federal judge,” he says “I very much like what I have found here. I will do everything I can to invite the public to better know their federal district court and its impact on their lives and community. I have no plans to leave Waco, even if there were to be a bench opening in Austin, for example,” he says. “I plan to remain here, and very much look forward to integrating into this thriving and growing community.”
The Waco area provides outlets for some of Judge Albright’s personal passions. Such things as Waco’s Zoo Run, Silo Marathon and the upcoming Miracle Match Marathon aligns with his love for running that’s led him to complete 26 marathons. Judge Albright’s growing participation in certain of Baylor Law School’s programs, including guest lecturing in its famed Practice Court program satisfies Judge’s teaching and mentoring desires. When having time to spend with his two sons, Waco’s many outdoor and sports venues and events will likewise make Waco a good fit for him and his family in this new chapter of life.
Only the future will reveal the full impact of Judge Albright’s arrival in Waco, Texas. Based on what other cities, such as Marshall, Texas, experienced after becoming a significant patent litigation venue, there is potential for a significant impact on Waco itself. Whatever the eventualities, there is a palpable “buzz” throughout the Texas legal community about a potential sea change from developments surrounding Judge Albright’s arrival.
We, the authors of this new blog, are enthusiastic supporters of Judge Albright, the Waco court, and the direction things are heading. This is the reason that we started this blog, so that we can provide information on cases and happenings in Waco patent cases as the venue evolves. We hope to provide interesting and useful insight, and welcome all comments and ideas. If you have questions or ideas for posts, please contact us! We look forward to covering the hottest court in the land!
-Erick Robinson and David G. Henry, Authors