28 U.S.C § 1404(a)
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Federal Circuit to WD Tex.: Denial of Transfer Motion was Clear Error, Abuse of Discretion

For the third time in as many months, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found clear error in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas’s denial of a defendant’s motion to transfer venue. In re Juniper Networks, Inc., Case No. 21-160 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 24, 2021) (per curiam).

WSOU Investments d/b/a Brazos Licensing filed seven complaints against Juniper Networks in the Western District of Texas for infringement of seven different patents. Juniper, a Delaware corporation headquartered in Sunnyvale, California, moved the district court to transfer the case to the Northern District of California pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Juniper pointed out that Brazos is a self-described patent assertion entity that does not conduct any business other than asserting patents and argued that “whatever ties Brazos has to this District appear to have been created for the purpose of its patent litigation activities in this District.” Additionally, two of Brazos’s officers, its CEO and its president, reside in California. Juniper argued that the Northern District of California was a clearly more convenient forum, noting that potential key witnesses were located in the Northern District of California. Juniper also asserted that the accused products were designed, developed, marketed and sold primarily from its Sunnyvale headquarters. While acknowledging that six of the actions could have been brought in the Northern District of California, the district court denied Juniper’s motion to transfer based on its analysis of the four private interest and four public interest factors. Juniper petitioned the Federal Circuit for writ of mandamus directing the district court to transfer the six cases.

Applying Fifth Circuit law, the Federal Circuit noted that a motion to transfer under § 1404(a) should be granted if “the movant demonstrates that the transferee venue is clearly more convenient.” The Court noted that district courts enjoy broad discretion in transfer determinations, but that it has routinely issued mandamus when a district court’s denial of a motion to transfer amounts to clear abuse of discretion.

The Federal Circuit explained that the “single most important factor” in transfer analysis is the relative convenience and cost of attendance for witnesses. Juniper identified 11 potential witnesses, all of whom were located in the Northern District of California, while Brazos only identified one Texas-based employee as a potential witness. The district court found that this only weighed slightly in favor of transfer, assigning “little weight” to both party and prior art witnesses and concluding that many of the witnesses were “unlikely to testify.” The Court disagreed, holding that the district court clearly erred in not giving sufficient weight to this factor in light of the “striking imbalance” in the parties’ 11-to-one listing of potential witnesses. The Court noted that it previously rejected both of the arguments used by the district court to discount the weight applied to Juniper’s witnesses. In August 2021, the Court held in In re Hulu, LLC that the district court’s discounting of party and prior art witnesses was “untethered [...]

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Venue Manipulation Obviates Geographically Bounded Claims in Venue Analysis

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a rare grant of two mandamus petitions directing the US District Court for the Western District of Texas to transfer the underlying patent infringement actions to the US District Court for the Northern District of California pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). In re: Samsung Elecs. Co., Ltd., Case Nos. 21-139, -140 (Fed. Cir. June 30, 2021) (Dyk, J.)

Ikorongo Technology owned four patents directed to functionalities allegedly performed by applications run on the accused mobile products sold by Samsung and LG. Ikorongo Technology assigned to Ikorongo Texas—an entity formed only weeks before—exclusive rights to sue for infringement of those patents within specified parts of the state of Texas, including certain counties in the Western District of Texas, while retaining the rights to the patents in the rest of the United States.

Ten days later, Ikorongo Texas sued Samsung and LG in the Western District of Texas. Although Ikorongo Texas claimed to be unrelated to Ikorongo Technology, the operative complaints indicated that the same five individuals owned both Ikorongo Texas and Ikorongo Technology, and that both entities shared office space in North Carolina.

The day after filing the initial complaints, Ikorongo Texas and Ikorongo Technology filed first amended complaints, this time naming both Ikorongo Technology and Ikorongo Texas as co-plaintiffs, noting that together Ikorongo Texas and Ikorongo Technology owned the entire right, title and interest in the asserted patents, including the right to sue for past, present and future damages throughout the United States and the world.

Samsung and LG separately moved under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to transfer the suits to the Northern District of California, arguing that “three of the five accused third-party applications were developed in Northern California, where those third parties conduct significant business activities and no application was developed or researched in Western Texas.” Samsung and LG also argued that potential witnesses and sources of proof were located in the Northern District of California.

The district court first concluded that Samsung and LG failed to establish § 1404(a)’s threshold requirement that the complaints “might have been brought” in the Northern District of California. Because Ikorongo Texas’s rights under the asserted patents were limited to the state of Texas and could not have been infringed in the Northern District of California, the district court held that venue over the entirety of the actions was improper under § 1400(b), which governs venue in patent infringement cases. Alternatively, the district court analyzed the traditional public- and private-interest factors, finding that defendants had not met their burden to show cause for transfer. Samsung filed for mandamus to the Federal Circuit.

The Federal Circuit found that the district court erroneously disregarded Ikorongo Technology and Ikorongo Texas’s attempts to manipulate venue when analyzing venue under § 1404(b). While no act of infringement of Ikorongo Texas’s geographically bounded rights took place in the Northern District of California, the Federal Circuit determined that “the presence of Ikorongo Texas is plainly recent, ephemeral, and [...]

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