Fed Circ moves Juniper's patent dispute from Waco to California

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
  • Albright gave too little weight to witnesses, state interest in denying move
  • Order follows similar ones for cases involving Samsung, Hulu

(Reuters) - Networking tech company Juniper Networks won an order on Friday from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit forcing U.S. District Judge Alan Albright to move its patent dispute with Brazos Licensing and Development from his court in Waco, Texas, court to Northern California federal court.

Albright "clearly abused" his discretion in denying Sunnyvale, California-based Juniper's request and misapplied the factors that govern transferring cases for convenience, a three-judge panel wrote in a unanimous unsigned opinion.

Albright has been known for refusing to move cases out of his patent-heavy court, and the precedential order follows other recent orders from the Federal Circuit directing him to transfer patent cases involving Samsung, Hulu and other companies.

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Juniper and its attorney, Kevin Johnson of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Brazos or its attorneys, Sarah Hartman and David Stein of Brown Rudnick.

Brazos -- which Juniper said described itself as a "patent assertion entity" -- filed several complaints against Juniper in Waco last year for allegedly infringing networking patents. Juniper moved to transfer the cases, arguing among other things that California was more convenient for potential witnesses and had a stronger interest in the dispute.

Albright rejected the motion in a sealed order, and Juniper asked the Federal Circuit for a writ of mandamus requiring him to move the case.

U.S. Circuit Judges Alan Lourie, William Bryson, and Richard Taranto ruled for Juniper on Friday, calling the case a "very close cousin of our recent decisions in Samsung and Hulu."

"In those cases, as in this one, the center of gravity of the action was clearly in the transferee districts, not the Western District of Texas," the panel said. "And as in those cases, several of the most important factors" in the analysis "strongly favor the transferee court, and no factor favors retaining the case in the transferor court."

The appeals court said that Albright incorrectly gave little weight to the convenience of California for potential witnesses. Juniper identified 11 potential witnesses in California, while Brazos only identified one in Texas.

"As we have previously explained, the relative convenience for and cost of attendance of witnesses between the two forums is probably the single most important factor in transfer analysis," the panel said.

The court also said California had a stronger interest in hearing the case than Texas. The events leading to the claims happened mainly in Northern California, and none occurred in West Texas.

The court said Albright's analysis of this factor relied on the fact that Juniper had leased a small office in Austin, but that office "existed to service a startup company that Juniper acquired which has no connection with the products accused of infringement."

Brazos' principal office in Waco wasn't entitled to significant weight because its presence in the town "appears to be both recent and relatively insubstantial" and "largely tied to bringing lawsuits in that court," the court said. It also noted that Brazos' principal officers are in California.

The case is In re Juniper Networks Inc, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, No. 21-160.

For Juniper: Kevin Johnson of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan

For Brazos: Sarah Hartman of Brown Rudnick

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com