U.S. court moves to break West Texas judge's hold on patent cases
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- Cases filed in Albright's court will be randomly distributed
- Albright currently hears nearly 25% of all U.S. patent cases
(Reuters) - The chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas has ordered new patent cases filed in Judge Alan Albright's Waco court to be split between Albright and the district's other 11 judges, effectively ending a policy that has allowed Albright's court to host nearly a quarter of all pending U.S. patent cases.
Chief District Judge Orlando Garcia said Monday that patent cases filed in Waco would be randomly assigned "in an effort to equitably distribute those cases." Some patent cases filed in Waco will now be heard in Austin, San Antonio, El Paso and other court locations.
Plaintiffs in West Texas could previously request to have their cases heard in a specific division, effectively allowing them to choose Albright, the only permanent judge in Waco.
Albright has been criticized by some for policies said to be overly friendly to so-called "patent trolls" that generate revenue by suing over patents, and for allegedly soliciting patent plaintiffs to sue in his court. He was a patent litigator with Bracewell before being appointed to the bench in 2018.
Albright's chambers did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The Waco judge told Reuters last year that he treats all civil cases the same way and considers negative perceptions of his court to be "pretty much from outside the bubble."
Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont jointly criticized the "extreme concentration" of cases in Albright's court and the "unseemly and inappropriate conduct that has accompanied this phenomenon" in a letter to U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts last year.
Roberts said in response that he would direct the Judicial Conference of the United States to address potential forum shopping in patent cases.
A spokesperson for Tillis said Tuesday that the senator was "pleased to see that the Western District of Texas is taking steps to correct some of the abuses that are occurring in its courtrooms," and that this "reduces the need for additional congressional action" on venue rules in patent cases.
Leahy said in a statement Tuesday that he was also "glad to see that the Western District of Texas has taken a significant step toward equitable assignments of cases."
"In no district, and in no area of law, should a plaintiff be allowed to shop not just for a particular forum but for a particular judge," Leahy said.
The Judicial Conference did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
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