A recent order from Chief Judge Garcia of the US District Court for the Western District of Texas (WDTX) changes how judges are initially assigned to cases filed in its Waco Division. As of July 25, 2022, patent cases filed in the Waco Division shall be randomly assigned to one of 12 judges. The list includes at least one judge from each of the district’s seven divisions. The order states that the new practice is due to “consideration of the volume of new patent cases assigned to the Waco Division, and in an effort to equitably distribute those cases.”
It’s no secret that the Waco Division has been a magnet for patent lawsuits in the last four years. The only judge in Waco—Judge Alan D. Albright—has presided over more than 2,500 patent cases since September 2018. Those 2,500 patent cases account for about 17% of all patent cases filed nationally in district courts in that timeframe. Plaintiffs’ preference to file in Waco is due in part to Judge Albright’s knowledge of patent cases, his interest in patent cases and his promulgation of local patent rules aiming for a predictable and quick path to trial.
Although Waco cases may now initially be assigned to other judges, whether they choose to keep the assignments remains to be seen. The recent order contains a footnote stating that its previous order for assigning judges “remains in full force and effect.” That previous order allows judges to reassign any case “by mutual consent.” (See Item XVIII(a).) Thus, judges may self-select out of these cases. A large criminal docket is one example of why a judge might self-select out of a patent case.
Even if another judge is assigned and decides to keep a Waco patent case, it remains to be seen whether they will adopt Judge Albright’s local patent rules. Judge Albright has put extensive efforts into the local rules, including procedures related to discovery disputes, pre-Markman discovery, Markman hearings, infringement and invalidity contentions, US Patent & Trademark Office inter partes review effects and more. His cases have averaged about eight months to a Markman hearing and about 24 months to trial. Other judges may decide to make use of that framework to save time and effort or to avoid inconsistencies within the division.
Stay tuned for updates as this new assignment practice unfolds and more patent cases are assigned.