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Albright Hands Over Austin Patent Cases After Moves From Waco (1)

Nov. 15, 2021, 7:08 PMUpdated: Nov. 15, 2021, 9:53 PM

A West Texas federal judge has passed several patent cases to his colleagues in Austin, after initially continuing to oversee the cases after transferring them from his Waco courtroom.

U.S. District Judge Alan Albright of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas has transferred dozens of patent suits from Waco to Austin in recent years after the parties agreed, or the judge found, that Austin would be a more convenient place to litigate.

Albright’s practice was to continue overseeing a case following an intradistrict transfer. But he cleared from his docket Nov. 12 several pending cases, handing them over to judges in Austin.

“It appears to the Court that the above-styled and number cause should be transferred from the docket of the Honorable Alan D. Albright, United States District Judge, by random assignment to the docket” of a judge in the Austin division, Albright wrote in a series of nearly identical orders.

Among the cases Albright gave up were a suit Voxer Inc. brought against Facebook Inc., Quartz Auto Technologies LLC’s suit against Lyft Inc., and a case Exafer Ltd. brought against Microsoft Corp.

Albright’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Source of Concern

Albright’s practice of keeping cases on his docket following an Austin transfer led to many parties stipulating to such transfers. And it helped fuel perceptions that some patent owners were forum- shopping, effectively choosing their judge.

Because Albright is the only district judge in Waco, all patent cases filed in that court are automatically assigned to him under district rules. Cases filed in Austin are split between U.S. District Judges Lee Yeakel and Robert Pitman.

Albright’s approaches to patent cases, including a reluctance to pause suits when there is a validity challenge at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, have helped make his Waco court a magnet for infringement cases.

Last year, Albright began requiring detailed reasons why a transfer to Austin was warranted, even when the two sides agreed to the move. The pipeline of cases from Waco to Austin has since dried, research by Temple law professor Paul Gugliuzza and American University’s Jonas Anderson shows.

Choice to Make

Albright’s court has been under the microscope as of late.

Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) this month wrote a letter to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., drawing attention to the Western District of Texas’ case assignment rules and expressing concern about forum-shopping in patent cases.

The senators asked the Judicial Conference, which Roberts oversees, to study appropriate changes.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has also criticized some of Albright’s transfer decisions, including a decision to transfer a case back to Waco before trial.

The appeals court in In re: Apple Inc. found a “clear abuse of discretion” and said the case needed to proceed in Austin. Moving forward, Gugliuzza said it was hard to imagine a Waco-to-Austin re-transfer standing except in unusual situations.

“What that would leave Judge Albright with is, the choices are hear and try all of these cases in Austin or give the cases that are currently pending in Austin to a judge who’s based in Austin, because you can’t get the case out of Austin,” Gugliuzza said.

Most of the Austin cases were assigned to Yeakel.

(Updated with additional reporting)

To contact the reporter on this story: Matthew Bultman in New York at mbultman@correspondent.bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com