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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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First-to-File Rule Requires That Action Could Have Been Brought in Transferee Forum

After issuing a rare grant of a mandamus petition directing a district court to stay proceedings until ruling on a pending motion to transfer, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied a subsequent mandamus petition to compel transfer after that district court denied the transfer. In re SK hynix Inc., Case No. 21-114 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 25, 2021) (Taranto, J.) (non-precedential). The Federal Circuit found that the doctrine of forum non conveniens and the first-to-file rule did not establish a basis for transfer because the action could not have initially been brought in the transferee forum and the patentee’s prior filings in that forum did not give consent for subsequently filed actions.

Netlist and SK hynix are competitors in the memory semiconductor space. Netlist sued SK hynix for patent infringement in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas. SK hynix moved to transfer the case to the US District Court for the Central District of California. With no ruling after eight months (while the case continued to move forward), SK hynix sought mandamus from the Federal Circuit to compel the district court to transfer the case. The Federal Circuit declined to transfer the case and instead stayed the district court proceedings until the district court ruled on the transfer motion. The district court then denied the transfer motion, rejecting SK hynix’s arguments that the doctrine of forum non conveniens and the first-to-file rule required transfer to the Central District of California. The district court also advanced the Markman hearing and trial dates. SK hynix again sought mandamus from the Federal Circuit to compel transfer and requested a stay of the district court proceedings because of the advanced Markman and trial dates.

Applying Fifth Circuit law, the Federal Circuit denied the mandamus petition, concluding that SK hynix had not shown that the district court clearly abused its discretion in denying the transfer motion. On the forum non conveniens issue, the Court found no clear abuse in the district court’s determination that SK hynix did not meet the threshold conditions for transfer under 28 USC § 1404(a), namely that the action “might have been brought” in the Central District of California or that, in the alternative, all the parties had consented to that venue for the action. As to the “might have been brought” inquiry, the Court found that the district court properly focused on whether the action might have been brought against SK hynix America, a domestic entity subject to the venue requirements of 28 USC § 1404(b) and headquartered in the Northern District of California, rather than SK hynix, a foreign entity not subject to the same venue requirements. The Court also found that SK hynix did not differentiate between the foreign and domestic SK hynix entities in its transfer motion. This was not an action that might have been brought against SK hynix in the Central District of California because SK hynix America lacked sufficient presence there to confer venue under [...]

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Eight-Month Delay on Transfer Motion Ruling Is “Egregious,” Warrants Stay

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a rare grant of a mandamus petition directing a district court to stay proceedings until ruling on a pending motion to transfer, stating that the district court’s eight-month delay in ruling on the motion while allowing substantive issues to proceed “amounted to egregious delay and blatant disregard for precedent.” In re SK hynix Inc., Case No. 21-113 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 1, 2021) (Moore, J.) (non-precedential). The district court denied the transfer request the following day, and the petitioner asked the Federal Circuit to again stay the proceedings until it completed briefing on a new mandamus petition to compel transfer, which the Federal Circuit denied without prejudice. In re SK hynix Inc., Case No. 21-113 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 3, 2021).

Netlist and SK hynix are competitors in the memory semiconductor space. Netlist sued SK hynix for patent infringement in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas. SK hynix moved to transfer the case to the US District Court for the Central District of California. The parties completed briefing on the transfer motion in May 2020. The district court ordered the parties to engage in extensive discovery and scheduled a Markman hearing for March 2021. On January 6, 2021, after SK hynix moved to stay proceedings pending the motion to transfer, the district court instructed the parties to proceed with all deadlines while jurisdictional issues were resolved in parallel. SK hynix then filed the mandamus petition seeking to direct the district court to transfer the case, or alternatively, to rule on SK hynix’s pending motion to transfer. The district court soon issued an order setting a hearing on the transfer motion for February 2, 2021.

On February 1, 2021, the Federal Circuit granted the mandamus petition and directed the district court to stay all proceedings concerning the substantive issues in the case, including discovery, until the district court issued a ruling on the transfer motion. In its Order, the Court recognized that mandamus may be used to correct an “arbitrary refusal to act” by a district court on a transfer request. Although a district court has discretion in handling its docket, a motion to transfer “should unquestionably take top priority.” The Court characterized the district court’s handling of the transfer motion as amounting to “egregious delay and blatant disregard for precedent,” finding that the motion “lingered unnecessarily on the docket” while the parties were instructed to proceed with the merits of the case.

The next day, the district court issued an order denying SK hynix’s transfer request. The district court’s order also moved up the trial date from December 6, 2021, to July 6, 2021, and the Markman hearing from March 19, 2021, to March 1, 2021. SK hynix immediately notified the Federal Circuit of the denial and its intention to file a new mandamus petition to compel transfer. In the interim, SK hynix requested that the Federal Circuit extend the stay of the district court proceedings until briefing [...]

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Transfer Motions Must Take Top Priority

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit granted an accused infringer’s mandamus petition to transfer a case from the Western District of Texas to the Northern District of California, concluding that the district court “barreled ahead” on the merits before addressing the transfer motion and clearly abused its discretion in denying transfer. In re. Apple, Inc., Case No. 20-135 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 9, 2020) (Prost, C.J.) (Moore, J., dissenting). In re. Apple, Inc

In September 2019, Uniloc sued Apple in the Western District of Texas alleging that several Apple products infringed one of Uniloc’s patents. In November 2019, Apple moved to transfer the case to the Northern District of California on the basis that it would be clearly more convenient to litigate the case in that district. In January 2020, Apple moved to stay all activity in the case unrelated to its transfer motion pending a decision on that motion. The district court denied the stay motion without explanation. In May 2020, the district court held a hearing on Apple’s transfer motion during which the court stated that it would deny the motion and issue a written order as soon as possible. After the hearing, but before issuing a written order, the court held a Markman hearing, issued its claim construction order, held a discovery hearing and issued a corresponding discovery order. In response to these advances in the case, in June 2020 Apple filed a petition for writ of mandamus requesting that the Federal Circuit transfer the case to the Northern District of California. One week after Apple filed its petition, the district court issued its written order denying transfer.

The Federal Circuit granted Apple’s mandamus petition and directed the district court to transfer the case to the Northern District of California. The Federal Circuit explained that the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit assesses transfer requests using private and public interest factors. The private interest factors are: “(1) the relative ease of access to sources of proof; (2) the availability of compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses; (3) the cost of attendance for willing witnesses; and (4) all other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious and inexpensive.” The public interest factors are: “(1) the administrative difficulties flowing from court congestion; (2) the local interest in having localized interests decided at home; (3) the familiarity of the forum with the law that will govern the case; and (4) the avoidance of unnecessary problems of conflict of laws [or in] the application of foreign law.” The parties agreed that the third and fourth public interest factors were neutral, but disputed whether the remaining factors weighed for or against transfer.

The Federal Circuit found numerous errors in the district court’s analysis. As to the first private factor (access to sources of proof), the Court found that the district court erred in determining that the location of witnesses weighed in favor of transfer. The Court explained that the “access to proof” factor [...]

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Where Should This Case Go? Appeals Court Tosses Venue Motion to Dismiss

Addressing for the first time whether a court must consider the adequacy of an alternative forum in its forum non conveniens analysis, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the denial of a defendant’s motion to dismiss under forum non conveniens. In re Fortinet, Inc., Case No. 20-120 (Fed. Cir. May 1, 2020) (Dyk, J.).

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