April 06, 2017
On March 27, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC. TC Heartland LLC (Heartland) is organized under Indiana law and headquartered in Indiana. Kraft Food Brands LLC (Kraft) is organized under Delaware law with its principal place of business in Illinois. Kraft sued Heartland in federal district court in Delaware, alleging that products Heartland shipped to Delaware infringed on Kraft’s patents for similar products. Heartland moved to dismiss the claim, arguing that the federal court in Delaware lacked the necessary jurisdiction over Heartland’s person--i.e., “personal jurisdiction.” Alternatively, Heartland sought transfer of the case to a venue in the Southern District of Indiana. The district court denied the motion to dismiss, holding that Heartland’s contacts with Delaware were sufficient to justify the exercise of personal jurisdiction. The court also denied the request to transfer venue, citing precedent in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit indicating that, under 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1391 and 1400, venue for a corporate defendant, including in a patent infringement suit, is proper in any district in which the defendant is subject to a federal court’s personal jurisdiction.
Heartland then sought a writ of mandamus from the Federal Circuit ordering the district court to dismiss the case or transfer venue, arguing that Heartland did not “reside” in Delaware for purposes of the patent venue statute, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1400. The Federal Circuit denied the writ, indicating that the lower court had acted properly and that Congress’ 2011 amendments to the venue statute did not provide cause to change the Federal Circuit’s prevailing interpretation of the statute.
The question now before the Supreme Court is whether the patent venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b), which provides that patent infringement actions “may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides[,]” is the sole and exclusive provision governing venue in patent infringement actions and is not affected by the statute governing “[v]enue generally,” 28 U.S.C. § 1391, which has long contained a subsection (c) that, where applicable, deems a corporate entity to reside in multiple judicial districts.
To discuss the case, we have J. Devlin Hartline, who is Assistant Director, Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) and Adjunct Professor, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University.