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Editorial: Patent cases patently affecting

March 26, 2017 at 6 a.m.


Google, Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Whirlpool - what on Earth would draw representatives from these global conglomerations to a small East Texas town more renowned for its excellent lights festival than for being an industry hotspot? The answer, as it so often is, is money.

More specifically decisions in patent cases that more often than not number in the millions, an ever increasing amount of which are being decided right here in Marshall.

Many locals seem none too fussed when corporate giants come to town, some thinking, perhaps, what does two cellphone companies squabbling over royalties have to do with me? It is really too bad that Marshallites, in general, do not grasp the breadth and depth of the impact decisions by East Texas juries have on patent law.

But those who think patent cases, and the precedent those cases create for patent law in general, do not affect them, frankly haven't been paying attention.

When a jury rules on infringement they are also ruling on validation. Our neighbors are deciding if patents on every day, essential items and technology are valid and, therefore, enforceable. If a company, say Apple, is found to have infringed on a patent owned by a different company they must pay up.

Locals can usually tell when the latest patent trial is in town with the sudden influx of men and women in dark suits in downtown eateries around lunchtime. It is said that lawyers from around the country, representing corporations from around the globe, often seek the federal court in Marshall as the venue for their case, largely because the court is thought of as "plaintiff-friendly."

In reality, the cases are split almost 50-50 between the defendant and plaintiff. The federal court here is quick to bring a case to trial, which is not always the case in other venues.

The number of cases being heard in Marshall has caused quite a ruckus lately, spurring interest from news organizations like the "Today" show, BBC World News, Yahoo Finance, and, previously, The New York Times. The U.S. Supreme Court is even set to hear a case this week that could reform the entire patent venues system.

Oral arguments that will be heard on Monday concern the TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods Group Brands case, which urges justices to get rid of a ruling that patent suits can be filed in any district where the defendant makes sales. The large tech companies want the cases filed in their back yard where they have more control over trial results and hopefully win more trials.

And although proposed legislation on patent venue laws is already pending in both the House and the Senate, TC Heartland wants the Supreme Court to determine where patent cases can be filed under the patent venue statute, because the company has doubt that Congress would actually enact any venue laws.

Many around the nation, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, are siding with the large tech companies wanting to move the venue, to the detriment of the local court. No matter what decisions are made in the coming months, we hope residents will follow along and get engaged with what is happening in their own backyard.

You never know when you'll be called to sit on a jury that will ultimately impact U.S. law.

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