The question presented in TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC is seemingly straightforward: Does the statute governing venue generally, 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c), supplement the patent venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b)? In particular, the issue is whether § 1391(c)(2)’s broad residency definition, which provides that a corporate defendant “shall be deemed to reside . . . in any judicial district in which such defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction,” should be read into § 1400(b), which provides that a patent infringement action “may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides.” If a corporate defendant “resides” wherever a court has personal jurisdiction over it, a patent owner will typically have many choices of where it may sue that corporation for infringement.
TC Heartland is incorporated and headquartered in Indiana, while Kraft Foods is incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in Illinois. Kraft Foods sued in the District of Delaware, arguing that TC Heartland established personal jurisdiction—and thus venue—when it knowingly shipped a large number of allegedly infringing goods into that forum. The Federal Circuit held that the patent venue statute is supplemented by the broad definition of residency in § 1391(c). TC Heartland now asks the Supreme Court to reverse the decision and to hold that § 1400(b) is the sole and exclusive statute governing venue in patent infringement actions.
The case itself has garnered much attention because the same broad venue rules also allow non-practicing entities—so-called “patent trolls”—to sue in the Eastern District of Texas. Indeed, the policy implications of the case have taken center stage among many commentators.
The issue of where patent owners may sue alleged infringers is an important one, and this case will determine whether patent owners, like federal plaintiffs generally, have numerous choices, or whether they are limited by the narrow patent venue rules that the Supreme Court has already said should stand alone.
- Prof. J. Devlin Hartline, Assistant Director, Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) and Adjunct Professor, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University