In reading about the many specious patent lawsuits pursued every year, it’s some small comfort to know that there are judges still serving as gatekeepers to prevent many of these cases from going any further than they already have. Perhaps not enough, given that certain jurisdictions carry a reputation for being favorable to those types of lawsuits, but at least observers can feel that they system is ultimately working as it should, shaky as that belief may be.
Sadly, that faith hasn’t been rewarded, or at least not within the state of Texas. As Techdirt reports, West Texas is giving its eastern counterpart a run for its money as the preferred venue for patent lawsuits with the appointment of Judge Alan Albright, a former patent litigator himself. Appointed in 2018, Albright seems to be going above and beyond any of his contemporaries or predecessors in courting patent cases (pun intended), even going so far as to go on a barnstorming tour to declare his court open for business for any looking to bring a case under favorable conditions.
You don’t need to be an expert on judicial ethics to see the problem with that approach, or to grasp the broader implications and problems it has created. Techdirt’s piece lays out precisely how it works: patent trolls pick up and move to Waco — Judge Albright’s jurisdiction — to file their patent cases, and as they system allows for plaintiffs to choose not only the court but the judge to hear their case, these same entities and individuals can ensure their case is heard by a more-than-sympathetic ear. And as though that weren’t troublesome enough, both Albright and the Eastern District of Texas has plowed ahead in pushing though record volumes of patent cases — in-person, no less, despite the pandemic you’ve probably heard something about.
The issue of patent trolls is bad enough without having judges throw their doors open to them, and with that favorable treatment the problem can only get worse, save for some intervention on the part of legislators. It’s rote to mention the challenges that patent rolling presents for businesses big and especially small, and the millions of dollars siphoned off to pay legal expenses for a baseless case, expenses that can prove crippling to those small businesses. Moreover, what can it say of our court system when a judge is inviting plaintiffs with a wink and a nod, all but ensuring them that he’ll come down on their side? Justice is meant to be blind, impartial, and the patent judges of Texas seem to be far from that ideal.