The Patently Unexceptional Venue Statute
American University Law Review, Vol. 66, p. 1027, 2017
Boston Univ. School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 2017-08
34 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2017 Last revised: 9 May 2017
Date Written: May 2, 2017
Legal doctrines developed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit are often derided as “exceptionalist,” particularly on issues of procedure. The court’s interpretation of the venue statute for patent infringement suits seems, at first glance, to fit that mold. According to the Federal Circuit, the statute places few constraints on the plaintiff’s choice of forum when suing corporate defendants. This permissive venue rule has lead critics to suggest that the court is, once again, outside the mainstream. The Supreme Court’s recent grant of certiorari in TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods would seem to indicate that those critics are correct.
This article argues, however, that venue is one area of Federal Circuit procedural law that is not, in fact, exceptional. Rather, the court’s capacious understanding of venue is both consistent with broader trends in venue doctrine and with the text and purpose of the governing statutes. To be clear, as a matter of pure policy, granting plaintiffs unbridled discretion over choice of forum in patent litigation may be problematic. But there are better modes of reform than a questionable interpretation of the venue statute that could have unintended consequences both in patent cases and beyond.
This article, drafted for the American University Law Review’s annual symposium on the Federal Circuit, explores the history of the relevant venue statutes, analyzes key judicial decisions, argues that the Federal Circuit’s current approach to venue is doctrinally sound, and suggests alternative paths for reforming the law of forum selection in patent litigation.
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