Patent trolls have long been an issue in the world of intellectual property. For innovators, patent trolls represent an ever-present threat to their work, as one lawsuit could mean spending time and money they don't have on a court battle. For many observers, patent trolls are a miscarriage of the spirit of intellectual property laws, using an overly broad patent as a tool to extort money from companies rather than as a means of protecting their creations. But a recent court decision may prove a setback for future frivolous lawsuits.
In a ruling on the recent lawsuit between TC Heartland LLC and Kraft Heinz, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that patent lawsuits can only be filed in courts located in the jurisdiction where the defendant company has been incorporated. The ruling overturns a previous from the U.S Court of Appeals, and marks a significant change in how patent cases, and in particular those brought by patent trolls, will proceed going forward. Previously, most patent cases involving those considered to be patent trolls were filed in the Eastern District of Texas, which had proved a favorable venue for patent trolls.
In the case in question Kraft Heinz had filed their patent suit against Heartland in Delaware over water flavorings. Heartland asked for the trial to be moved to Indiana, where they are headquartered, arguing that the overwhelming majority of their sales are outside of Delaware. In their case to the Supreme Court, Heartland argued that the court uphold its own 1957 ruling that patent suits are in fact dictated by law to be filed in the district of incorporation of the defendant.
The ruling serves as a big win for companies that have been pursued by patent trolls in East Texas, and could serve to cut down on the number of speculative suits from patent trolls altogether.