On Monday, March 27, 2017, the Supreme Court heard arguments from parties in one of the most important patent cases in years, TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC. The case originated in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware before making its way to the Federal Circuit, and eventually, the Supreme Court. The case has the potential to limit where companies conducting business globally may be sued in patent cases. The Supreme Court is tasked with deciding whether the patent venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b), providing that patent infringement actions “may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides[,]” is the exclusive provision governing venue in patent infringement actions and is not an accessory of the general venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1391, which has long contained subsection (c) that, where applicable, deems a corporate entity to reside in multiple judicial districts.

Currently, patent owners may file patent infringement suits where the defendant “resides,” or where defendant has committed an act of infringement and has a regular established place of business. Courts have interpreted where corporations reside broadly to include almost anywhere a company has sold its product. In effect, companies sued for patent infringement have been subject to suit in nearly every jurisdiction because they have infringing products sold in the state. This flexibility, where parties can bring a patent infringement action against a company, has allowed many non-practicing entities to file in the notorious Eastern District of Texas where many believe it is a patentee or plaintiff friendly district.

In TC Heartland, Kraft Foods originally filed the case in the District of Delaware accusing TC Heartland, petitioner, of patent infringement. However, TC Heartland maintains that the District of Delaware was not proper jurisdiction because it is not headquartered or incorporated in the state of Delaware. Per typical patent infringement cases, Kraft Foods countered that Delaware is a proper venue for the suit because TC Heartland ships a substantial amount of accused products there every year and therefore “resides” in Delaware because of its sales activities. After making its way to the Supreme Court, practitioners, companies, judges, and the patent-loving law student will finally have answers regarding proper venue in patent cases.

The Supreme Court ruling has the ability to significantly impact the current landscape of patent litigation. Many predict that the Districts of Delaware and Northern California will hear more high-tech cases because of the large number of corporate Northern California headquarters and Delaware incorporations. Positively, courts in both of these jurisdictions already preside over hundreds of suits a year and have established procedures for handling patent cases properly and efficiently. Regardless of what the Court rules, patent litigation is sure to remain an exciting legal practice.

–Laura Powell

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