First there was fast food. Now there is
fast legal action. One such ‘rocket
docket’ for patent lawsuits is in the Eastern District of Texas. In less than five
years, the town of Marshall has increased
the number of patent cases heard eightfold.
To find out what is going on, Smart
Business asked E. Leon Carter, a member
of the litigation section of Munck Butrus
PC, a Dallas-based law firm.
What is a ‘rocket docket’?
That phrase refers to jurisdictions in
which cases go to trial relatively quickly.
Cases in the U.S. District Court in Marshall
typically go to trial 14 to 18 months from filing, as opposed to 24 to 36 months in most
other jurisdictions. In effect, it cuts time to
trial in half.
The phrase usually is heard in criminal
cases where the defendant is indigent or in
jail. It’s a good thing in patent cases, too,
for both sides. Plaintiffs prefer quick resolution, and many defendants benefit from
an early trial setting since ongoing litigation — particularly patent litigation — can
depress stock prices.
Is Marshall the only place this is happening?
Can anyone file there?
The Eastern District is the only place in
Texas. For years the Eastern District of
Virginia was considered a rocket docket,
but that court became so inundated with
lawsuits that their time-to-trial lengthened
considerably. Currently, the Western District of Wisconsin is one of the few other
jurisdictions also considered a rocket
Patent owners from anywhere can file in
Marshall, provided that the infringer is subject to personal jurisdiction in the Eastern
District of Texas. That includes big cities
like McKinney, Sherman, Texarkana, Tyler,
Longview, Lufkin and Beaumont, so there’s
a good chance the product was used there.
The same holds true for the Western
District of Wisconsin.
Judges in the Eastern District of Texas
handle more patent cases every year than those in any other district, with the possible exception of the Northern District of
California (Silicon Valley) or Southern
District of New York. They have acquired
considerable expertise in typical issues
relating to patents and patent law.
Is this a way for the ‘little guy’ to level the
field against giant corporations?
Surprisingly, fast trial settings can actually hurt little guys. Deep-pocket defendants
use their resources to overwhelm a smaller
opponent by contesting every issue to the
fullest extent possible and by conducting
‘leave no stone unturned’ discovery. Fast
trial settings compress the time frame during which such actions can be undertaken,
so while a large corporation can easily just
add more lawyers to the team, a smaller
entity may be unable to keep pace.
Delay only benefits certain defendants
who wish to continue their wrongful conduct for years while litigation drags on, or
to defer a judgment against them for as
long as possible.
Do local lawyers have an advantage via the
‘good ol’ boy network’?
I don’t think so; judges in the Eastern District do not show favoritism. I think that
every judge would be offended by the suggestion. Local counsel is advisable simply
because, as in any district, knowledge of
the judge’s past rulings and views on law
are important to understanding how matters are likely to be resolved. But consistent rulings on an issue are not so much
evidence of bias as they are an indicator of
adherence to principal. Judges all follow
How did Marshall, a town of less than
25,000, become a clearinghouse for patent
Patent cases are complex and extensive,
taking years to resolve. Some patent owners began taking advantage of the early,
firm trial settings for which Marshall and
other divisions in the Eastern District of
Texas are known, to obtain quicker resolution. Judges reacted by adopting local
patent rules, similar to those used in
Silicon Valley, to force more efficient handling of patent cases. As a result, cases are
brought to trial within a structured pretrial
framework that allows both sides to more
quickly learn the other side’s contentions.
So it’s a matter of fast trials and local patent
No. Judges in the Eastern District were
always willing to hear patent cases. Patent
cases are intrinsically complex, both due to
the high-level technology commonly
involved and the arcane nature of patents.
Parties to patent disputes are often combative, sometimes justifiably so, given the
importance of technology to their enterprise. So in many other federal districts,
judges are not eager to be assigned patent
cases, a fact that even the U.S. Congress
E. LEON CARTER is a shareholder at Munck Butrus PC and is
a member of the firm’s litigation section with over 20 years of trial
and litigation experience. He has served as a Dallas County
Assistant District Attorney and as an Assistant Attorney General
for the state of Texas. Reach him at (972) 628-3600 or
[email protected] .