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December 30, 2008
Where a case gets heard can be as important as what's argued in court. Two items this week are bringing this lesson home:
In the first case, the RIAA got its wrist slapped for pre-emptively trying to appeal in mid-trial. As Nate Anderson points out, you can't generally do that without the judge's permission, and in this case Judge Davis is not in a favor-granting mood.
Part of the issue is that Davis presides in the Eighth Circuit, a district where the courts have held that "actual distribution" has to occur for a copyright infringement case to proceed. Other jurisdictions have held differently, but for this case (against single mom Jammie Thomas) the RIAA has to abide by that precedent.
Meanwhile, down in Texas, law.com blogger Zusha Elinson notes that the CAFC has issued a ruling that may make life easier for patent defendants to get cases transferred out of the Eastern District of Texas. This particular venue has been chosen by plaintiffs who see the judges there as more likely to be sympathetic, even though the District may be far from the defendants' homes.
The CAFC issued something called a writ of mandamus, a document compelling a government official to perform his duties properly. In this case, the Court took to task Eastern judge John Ward for his refusal to allow a venue transfer for Lear Corp v TS Tech. Lear had sued in the Eastern District, hoping for a favorable venue; TS Tech wanted things moved up to Ohio, which would have been more convenient for them.
Because the CAFC is a superior authority in patent cases, this writ and its supporting arguments can be used by other defendants who feel the Eastern District is too plaintiff-friendly and can bring good arguments for a change of venue. This isn't a pure "get out of jail free" card - suits will still be heard in other venues but clearly there's strong feeling that the merits of particular cases are weighted differently depending on the venue in which it's heard.
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