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Senators slam Albright over 'extreme concentration' of patent cases

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Committee Chairman U.S. Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) presides as Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies about the State Department budget before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. June 8, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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  • Albright's Waco, Texas court hears the most patent cases in U.S.
  • Senators criticize judge for soliciting cases, refusing to transfer
  • Ask Judicial Conference to study, reform patent venue rules

(Reuters) - A bipartisan pair of U.S. senators have accused U.S. District Judge Alan Albright of misusing his power to make his Waco, Texas court a hotbed for patent litigation, in a letter to U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont in their Tuesday letter criticized the "extreme concentration of patent litigation" in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas and the "unseemly and inappropriate conduct that has accompanied this phenomenon."

Leahy and Tillis are the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Intellectual Property. The senators didn't mention Albright by name in the body of the letter, but refer to him in several footnotes.

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Albright didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Critics say Albright's policies attract alleged "patent trolls," as individuals and companies that generate revenue by suing over patents instead of actually making products have been called, to his court.

Albright told Reuters earlier this year that he considered negative perceptions of his court to be "pretty much from outside the bubble."

The senators' letter said that "roughly 25%" of all U.S. patent litigation is pending before Albright, and that he has "openly solicited cases" at lawyers' meetings, urged patent owners to sue in Waco, and "repeatedly ignored binding case law" in denying transfer motions.

The senators said the Federal Circuit has been "compelled to correct his clear and egregious abuses of discretion" on transfers at least 15 times in the past two years.

Those who sue in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas can request to have their cases heard in a specific division, allowing plaintiffs to effectively choose Albright, the only permanent judge in Waco, as their judge, the letter said.

The letter asked Roberts to direct the Judicial Conference of the United States, the federal court system's policymaking body, to study the "absence of adequate rules" about assigning patent cases within a district and the "actual and potential abuses that the present situation has enabled," and to consider and implement reforms.

The senators gave a deadline of May 1, 2022 for the study.

Leahy declined to comment on the letter, and Tillis didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Read more:

Texas' busiest patent judge shows no signs of slowing down

Fed Circ. moves West Texas Google, Sonos patent dispute to Calif.

Intel loses U.S. patent trial, ordered to pay $2.18 bln to VLSI Tech

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Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Washington-based correspondent covering court cases, trends, and other developments in intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. Previous experience at Bloomberg Law, Thomson Reuters Practical Law and work as an attorney.

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