In re: Micron Technology, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2017-138).

Micron Technology was sued in 2016 by Harvard College, prior to the issuance of the Supreme Court’s TC Heartland decision on venue in a patent infringement lawsuit.  Following the TC Heartland decision, Micron moved to dismiss for improper venue.  Judge Young denied the motion as waived, finding that TC Heartland had not changed the venue laws, but had merely reaffirmed prior Supreme Court case law on the subject.  Micron petitioned the Federal Circuit for a writ of mandamus to set aside this ruling, noting the disagreement among many district courts on the subject of whether the venue laws were changed by TC Heartland.  Today the Federal Circuit held that TC Heartland did change the controlling venue law, in that it made available and interpretation of the venue statute that was not previously available.  The Court found that the rarely-applied remedy of mandamus relief was appropriate here to resolve the split in district courts over the issue, and was important to proper judicial administration.  Looking to Rule 12, the Court noted that, for waiver to apply, a defense under that rule must have been “available to the [defendant] when the defendant made the initial Rule 12(b) motion.  As a matter of law, the venue defense made possible by TC Heartland was not “available” prior to that decision’s issuance, given the controlling precedent at the time.  The Court interpreted “available” to mean available at the district court, not available after going through one or more levels of appeal, and under Federal Circuit precedent, the venue defense at issue was not something that could be granted by the district court.  Accordingly, the venue defense was not waived.

This was not, however, a clean win for Micron. The Court remanded the case for consideration of whether Micron’s subsequent venue motion was filed sufficiently soon after the TC Heartland decision so as to preserve the issue, indicating that the district court has discretion under its inherent powers to deem the venue challenge nonetheless waived.  To that end, the Court noted that it had denied mandamus in cases where a post-TC Heartland challenge was brought close to trial.

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