In response to the recent concentration of patent cases filed in a single court in Waco, Texas, all new patent cases filed in the Western District of Texas's Waco Division will be distributed among the district's various courts and divisions.
On July 25, 2022, Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia issued an Order Assigning the Business of the Court as it Relates to Patent Cases, ordering that all patent cases filed in the Western District's Waco Division be randomly assigned to 12 judges across the district, including to courts in San Antonio, Austin and El Paso. New patent cases filed in the Western District's other divisions are not subject to this random assignment.
Chief Judge Garcia's order responds to the explosion in patent filings in District Judge Alan Albright's court. Since Judge Albright's confirmation as the sole district judge in the Waco division in 2018, the number of patent cases filed in the Western District has grown dramatically, from less than 100 per year to nearly 1000 new case filings in 2021. Almost all of those cases have landed in Judge Albright's court. As a result, Judge Albright currently oversees about 20 percent of all pending U.S. patent cases, more than any other district court judge in the country.
This consolidation of patent cases into a single court has drawn criticism from both the Federal Circuit and the Senate's intellectual property subcommittee. Over the last two years, the Federal Circuit has granted multiple mandamus petitions overturning Judge Albright's denials of transfer motions. And in November 2021, Senators Patrick Leahy and Thom Tillis sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts expressing their concern about the concentration of patent cases in a single court, saying that it “creates an appearance of impropriety” that is “unseemly and inappropriate.”
The new random assignment process addresses these criticisms by limiting plaintiffs' ability to deliberately choose Judge Albright's court over other venues. Now, patent plaintiffs who file in Waco hoping to have their case heard by Judge Albright will have only a one-in-twelve chance of seeing that happen. Instead, patent cases filed in the Waco division are far more likely to land elsewhere in the district, including the San Antonio division, where five of the 12 district judges identified in Chief Judge Garcia's order sit.
Chief Judge Garcia's order does not affect the hundreds of patent cases already on Judge Albright's docket, but it is expected to substantially curtail the number of new patent cases filed in Waco. The extent of the impact remains to be seen, however, and will likely depend on whether other courts within the Western District of Texas adopt some or all of Judge Albright's standing orders and guidelines pertaining to patent cases.
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