With practically everyone agreeing that there have to be changes to where patent lawsuits can be filed, the star chamberesque East Texas district court is set to lose the primary source of its cases. With those cases will also go the main source of income for the East Texas legal profession.
Long derided as a kangaroo court in the pocket of rent seekers, East Texas’ district court, and its presiding judge Rodney Gilstrap, only just began rolling back a few of its more egregiously anti-defendant rules. However, this hasn’t kept the heat off, as a large bipartisan coalition in Congress still believes that venue reform is key to any successful reform of the patent system. This puts East Texas lawyers in a bind: How do you go about convincing a skeptical Congress that you’re not a bunch of parasitic lawyers extorting multibillion dollar companies for more goodies?
Apparently, they’ve decided you do it by hiring a lobbyist.
Yes, really. According to a lobbying registration dated October 13, 2015, the Eastern District of Texas Bar Association recently retained the services of Levick Strategic Communications, a company otherwise known for such delightful things as shielding Catholic priests from scrutiny during the molestation scandal, and representing bailout king AIG. Interestingly, Levick has also handled PR for Napster, an infamous enemy of intellectual property in the copyright space, but one supposes that where money is concerned, Washington lobbyists aren’t too picky.
All the same, the fact that East Texas lawyers are now getting in on the Washington cronyism game gives the lie to anyone suggesting that their interests, and the interests of patent trolls, are somehow independent. Both have solid financial reasons to implacably oppose patent reform, because as long as the current system is on the books, business will boom for them.
But don’t take my word for it that patent trolling is still booming. The numbers don’t lie, and the fact is that as recently as November 30, we hit a new one day record for patent lawsuits filed: 241 suits were filed that day, dwarfing the 190 filed on the previous record-holding day, and eclipsing the total number of suits filed in the last two weeks of October combined.
Oh, and by the way? Eighty percent of those suits were filed in the East Texas District Court. That’s right. A tiny court with only two courtrooms now faces over 190 lawsuits filed after a single day. That should be unheard of, but thanks to East Texas’ “rocket docket” reputation, it’s anything but.
This kind of abusive filing in a clearly overworked court doesn’t just prevent the presiding judge from doing an adequate job, nor does it only result in billions of dollars tossed down the drain by those defending against such frivolous lawsuits. It undermines trust in the entire legal and patent system, period. But because Marshall, Texas is living large off its reputation as patent troll capital of the world, its lawyers are determined to keep the rent-seeking gravy train flowing, and damn the consequences.
One only hopes that Speaker Ryan, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, and the rest of Congress will turn a polite deaf ear to their protestations, and to the unprincipled lobbyist whose services they have retained.