In an important patent venue decision (In re HTC Corporation, No. 2018-130 (May 9, 2018)), the Federal Circuit has denied the mandamus petition of a Taiwanese company challenging the District of Delaware’s finding that that court is a proper venue for patent infringement litigation over the company. Relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Brunette Machine Works, Ltd. v. Kokcum Industries, Inc., 405 U.S. 706 (1972), the unanimous panel reaffirmed that the rule that non-U.S. resident or “alien” defendants can be sued in any judicial district applies in patent cases.
Although the Supreme Court’s landmark opinion in TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Grp. Brands LLC, 137 S. Ct. 1514 (2017)—which limits venue over U.S. corporations to their state of incorporation or where they have a regular and established place of business—expressly declined to take a position on the Brunette decision, the panel emphatically announces that TC Heartland does not alter the conclusion that venue over non-U.S. resident patent infringement defendants is proper in any judicial district. Among other reasons, the panel notes that any other interpretation could create a “venue gap, where at least some alien defendants would be entirely exempt from patent infringement actions. . . [and] this court–without clear guidance from Congress—will not broadly upend the well-established rule that suits against alien defendants are outside the operation of the federal venue laws.”
Takeaway: This decision addresses an important question left open in TC Heartland in a way that will likely be seen as favorable to patent holders. Mandamus petitions on other important venue issues left open by TC Heartland, however, including whether a corporate defendant can be sued in any federal district in its state of incorporation (see our prior post), still remain to be resolved.