Let Rodney Gilstrap Do His Job - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Let Rodney Gilstrap Do His Job

Patent trolls love to sue inventors for actually building things they could only dream of. After all, the threat of massive court costs is a very effective weapon with which to extort people.

But what if they could also threaten people with having to fight them in a court where victory is almost assured for the troll? As it happens, that’s exactly what many trolls can threaten people with, thanks to the existence of the infamous East Texas district court, also known as the patent “rocket docket,” where inventors are railroaded and trolls reign supreme, thanks to the unfair practices of its one presiding judge, Rodney Gilstrap.

Or at least, so it would seem. In actuality, Gilstrap is probably suffering from patent trolls’ litigiousness as much as anyone else. Why? Because the number of lawsuits he has to deal with would most likely swamp a court with several times his court’s manpower. In fact, as Dallas News reports, a jaw dropping 839 patent infringement cases were filed in Gilstrap’s court during this quarter — more than in all the other federal courts across the country combined.

Small wonder, then, that Gilstrap and his predecessors have previously attained a reputation for being highly plaintiff friendly due to their harsh rules and time limits for litigants. These rules, some of which are dubiously constitutional, may be the only way for Gilstrap to clear his docket at all. Unfortunately, due to their friendliness to plaintiffs, who profit from fast, hanging judge-style trials, this creates a vicious cycle, as more and more plaintiffs flock to East Texas to try their patent cases before Gilstrap’s unforgiving gavel.

Fortunately, it’s possible that even Gilstrap may have worked this out, and may be getting sick of it. Witness his recent decision to invalidate 168 lawsuits filed by notorious patent troll eDekka. As Techdirt breathlessly notes:

[I]n a surprise move, Judge Rodney Gilstrap, in the Eastern District of Texas, has just tossed out 168 lawsuits filed by eDekka, after noting that the ’674 patent is not valid under Section 101 of the Patent Act. As recent Supreme Court rulings have made clear, you can’t just take a standard thing that people have done for ages, and “do it on a computer” to get a patent.[…]

In this one single order, Judge Gilstrap says that everyone else who has been sued under this patent shall be considered prevailing parties in their lawsuits and then issued a separate order allowing all of the defendants sued by eDekka to jointly file a brief asking for attorneys’ fees.

This is an encouraging move on Gilstrap’s part, even if it is just one decision out of hundreds that go the other way. However, patent reformers should not be too encouraged, as the decision betrays something deeper and more troubling — namely, that due to the size of his docket, it looks like Gilstrap cannot avoid painting with a broad brush, either by stacking the deck in favor of plaintiffs from the beginning, or by tossing out hundreds of lawsuits at a go. Given how he has veered between extremes, it’s easy to see that this isn’t so much the result of sober consideration as it is a sign of an overworked judge.

And who can blame him? One man can hardly adjudicate hundreds of lawsuits in a quarter fairly, nor should he be expected to.

However, fortunately for both Gilstrap and the people who end up in his courtroom for no good reason other than legal gamesmanship, there is a solution, and it comes in the form of the venue reform provisions of the American Innovation Act, currently before consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PATENT Act, currently pending in the Senate.

Venue reform, to quickly review, is a policy whereby stricter limits are set on the courts in which litigants can file their lawsuits. Given that many patent trolls use Gilstrap’s court as a cudgel with which to threaten their targets, regardless of whether they have actual ties to East Texas, this is a live problem, and it accounts for the massive number of lawsuits filed in that particular court. Venue reform of the sort pushed by the Innovation Act would force the trolls to argue their case on footing where more sober consideration of the merits of their cases is permitted, and where judges can give both plaintiffs and defendants a fair shake, rather than simply handing out other peoples’ money to trial lawyers.

This is not just a good policy for innovators. It is a good policy for judges, period. As I’ve already suggested, Gilstrap’s court covers a fairly narrow jurisdiction, and was not designed to be the gladiatorial arena in which hundreds of million or billion dollar lawsuits play out. True, the amount of money being adjudicated in the Eastern Texas District Court may lead to goodies like a Samsung-sponsored ice rink, but it also deprives anyone hoping to get justice before Gilstrap of the full protection of the law, and deprives Gilstrap himself of the time to act as a fair and impartial judge. Nobody is served well by this practice except lawyers seeking to game the system.

It’s time we not only let defendants stop fearing his draconian rules, and let plaintiffs stop fearing his capacity for sweeping rulings, but instead, that we let Rodney Gilstrap do his job, and deprive trolls of their capacity to harass his court as ruthlessly as they harass the people who often sit helpless before it.

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