Washington DC
20 July 2017
Reporter: Mark Dugdale

Congressmen Issa and Goodlatte hit out at Judge Gilstrap


Two members of the House judiciary committee have criticised Judge Rodney Gilstrap for his interpretation of TC Heartland v Kraft Foods, going as far as to suggest that he is putting the needs of the Eastern District of Texas above serving justice.

Speaking at a House judiciary committee hearing on patent law last week, Republican Darrell Issa described Judge Gilstrap’s recent interpretations of the Supreme Court’s TC Heartland decision—which limited the filing of infringement suits to the plaintiff’s state of incorporation—as “an act I find reprehensible”.

House judiciary committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, without naming Judge Gilstrap, said in his opening statement at the hearing: “Unfortunately, one judge in this district has already re-interpreted both the law and the unanimous Supreme Court decision to keep as many patent cases as possible in his district in defiance of the Supreme Court and congressional intent.”

The hearing came as defensive patent aggregator Unified Patents reported a 50 percent drop in disputes seen in the Eastern District of Texas in the first half of 2017.

Issa said at the hearing: “Only two weeks ago, Judge Gilstrap interpreted the TC Heartland decision in a way that rejects the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision and at least, for the time being, ensures that as many of the cases as possible will remain in his court room.”

“It may help the community he represents—the hotels, the law firms. But it does not serve justice and is in fact an act I find reprehensible.”

A key target of the hearing was so-called patent troll litigation. Tom Lee of Mapbox, an open source mapping platform, pinpointed forum shopping of the kind that has seen plaintiffs favour the Eastern District of Texas as a weapon in the armoury of many trolls.

He said: “Every patent troll we have encountered has filed their claims in remote locations instead of where our business is located. Patent trolls look for sympathetic venues like the Eastern District of Texas to raise the cost of defence, limit choice of counsel, and make impractical several kinds of legal responses.”

“We were pleased to see the Supreme Court curb venue abuse,” Lee said. “But more must be done.”

“Trolls can still sue customers instead of service providers for a venue ‘hook’, and it is expensive to file a motion opposing improper venue. Without additional efforts to control the cost of mounting a defence, such as limits on discovery before early motions are decided, venue will remain an inappropriately important consideration for victims of trolls.”

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