Florida corporation ViaTech brought suit against Adobe in May, 2019, accusing Adobe of infringing its U.S. Patent No. 6,920,567, entitled “System and Embedded License Control Mechanism for the Creation and Distribution of Digital Content Files and Enforcement of Licensed Use of Digital Content Files.” Venue was based on Adobe having offices in Massachusetts (despite having a principal place of business in California), as well as having allegedly infringed the patent in Massachusetts, both through its Massachusetts offices and through its on-line store. ViaTech itself was originally a Massachusetts corporation, ViaTech Inc., which merged into ViaTech Technologies in 2000. The three inventors on the ‘567 patent all reside in Massachusetts, although ViaTech has no Massachusetts employees. Adobe moved to dismiss the complaint, while also moving to transfer, and agreed to delay a decision on the dismissal pending the outcome of the transfer motion.
ViaTech’s authority to transact business in Massachusetts was revoked in 2012, for failure to file annual reports. On May 20, 2019, ViaTech filed annual reports for 2009 through 2018, seeking reinstatement, and four days later ViaTech filed suit against Adobe before reinstatement was granted. Judge Burroughs granted Adobe’s motion to transfer venue, but transferred to Adobe’s alternative selection, Delaware, rather than Northern California where Adobe is headquartered. She first noted that venue disputes in patent cases are governed by the law of the regional circuit rather than the Federal Circuit. She noted that Massachusetts was not ViaTech’s principal place of business and that vViaTech lacked ability to do business in the Commonwealth when the case was filed. The presumption in favor of ViaTech’s choice of forum was further diminished by the fact that ViaTech had twice brought suit on the same patent in the District of Delaware. This last fact also weighed against the convenience of ViaTech in litigating in Massachusetts, as it demonstrated ViaTech’s ability and willingness to do so in Delaware. Because both parties are incorporated in Delaware, Judge Burroughs determined that it was a more appropriate venue.
1818 Farms, after negotiating a settlement in principal on Plum Island’s trade dress and trademark assertions, surreptitiously filed this lawsuit and withdrew form settlement talks. Upon learning of this lawsuit, Plum Island Soap filed its own suit in Massachusetts. The background is discussed in detail here. Plum Island Soap sought to dismiss or stay the Alabama suit or, in the alternative, to transfer the Alabama suit to the District of Massachusetts for consolidation. Judge Kallon determined that transfer was appropriate. While 1818 Farms was the first to file suit, Judge Kallon noted that filing suit in anticipation of another pending proceeding or to improperly forum shop may be sufficient to show the compelling circumstances needed to overcome the presumption in favor of the first-to-file rule, particularly when the suit is a declaratory judgment action brought in the face of clear threats to sue. Here, he found that the parties were engaged in on-going discussions that had reached a mutually agreeable framework for settlement, and that in the middle of these discussions, and without informing Plum Island Soap, 1818 Farms filed the Alabama suit. 1818 Farms then continued negotiating without informing Plum Island Soap about their filing. This was found to be a clear attempt to preempt Plum Island Soap and obtain a jurisdiction desirable to 1818 Farms. Additionally, it was found to be in bad faith, given that 181 Farms continued to mislead Plum Island that settlement was imminent. Finally, Judge Kallon determined that a refusal to transfer would undermine the strong Federal interest in encouraging potential plaintiffs to attempt settlement negotiations rather than racing to the courts.
CR Associates sued Selfstorage and Sparefoot, Inc. (and a third party, since voluntarily dismissed), alleging state and federal trademark infringement and unfair competition relating to defendants’ alleged use of CR’s “Cross Road Storage” mark to boost defendants’ Google search results and to indicate, on defendants’ website, that CR’s self-storage facility is unavailable and redirect viewers to other storage sites under contract with the defendants. Judge Sorokin granted Selfstorage’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, finding that Selfstorage merely licensed use of its “selfstorage.com” domain name to Sparefoot for a licensing fee, which was insufficient to demonstrate purposeful availment of Massachusetts. He granted Sparefoot’s motion to transfer pursuant to a forum selection clause in a contract between CR and Sparefoot executed on February 2, 2017, and denied CR’s emergency motion to amend its complaint as futile, as nothing in the amended complaint limited the allegations to the period prior to the execution of the agreement. Judge Sorokin rejected CR’s argument that the terms of service that included the forum selection clause could not be applied, finding the on-line terms’ notification and affirmative requirement of agreement sufficed to render the term enforceable. He likewise rejected CR’s argument that the requirement person executing the agreement on CR’s behalf lacked authority to bind CR, finding that the person had implied authority to do the acts required to enter into the agreement the company had asked him to enter into, and that the conduct of CR’s principal following the execution of the agreement was consistent with having conferred such authority. The case was transferred to the Western District of Texas.
In December 2016, Caffeinate Labs sued New York’s Vante Inc. and Alexander Shlaferman, also a New York resident, for patent infringement, trademark infringement, and ancillary state law claims related to Vante’s sale of the “Wallet Ninja” in competition with Caffeinate’s PocketMonkey®. Schlaferman filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim of design patent infringement in May; while that motion was pending, Caffeinate Labs voluntarily dismissed the design patent claim with prejudice. Shlaferman then moved in to transfer the case to the Eastern District of New York. Judge O’Toole granted that motion in light of the In re Micron Technology decision, finding that the defendants timely moved for transfer after the TC Heartland decision and thus did not waive a venue challenge. Judge O’Toole found the case to be “primarily one alleging patent infringement,” thus making the patent venue statue the applicable touchstone for venue.
Judge Glen E. Conrad of the Western District of Virginia granted defendant Tomtom’s motion to transfer venue to the District of Massachusetts. The complaint, for patent infringement, was filed in July 2016, yet Tomtom’s motion was not filed until after the TC Heartland decision holding that venue is restricted to the state of incorporation or a venue in which the defendant both has a regular place of business and has committed acts of infringement. Tomtom is not incorporated in Virginia and has no regular place of business there. In response to the motion, Smart Wearable acknowledged that venue in Virginia is not proper under TC Heartland, but argued that Tomtom waived its venue challenge by failing to raise it earlier.
When faced with a similar situation, Judge Young of the District of Massachusetts denied the motion to transfer, finding that TC Heartland was not a change in the law that allowed for the late filing of a venue motion. In Virginia, however, Judge Conrad determined that TC Heartland “significantly changed the law of venue” in patent cases , and that, “as a practical matter,” the motion to transfer was not available to Tomtom prior to that decision. While these decisions are on their face contradictory, it may be the result of differences in controlling circuit law – Judge Conrad specifically cited to a Second Circuit holding that a defense cannot be waived where it was directly contradictory to then-existing circuit precedence.
Judge Martinez of the Western District of Washington, in response to Defendants Charlie’s One Stop Computer Center, Inc. and its president, Michael Aucoin’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, instead transferred the litigation to Massachusetts. The case was initially filed in June, 2016, against unknown defendants, alleging infringement of Microsoft copyrights and trademarks on software being installed using fraudulent product keys. Discovery led to the identification of Charlie’s One Stop and Mr. Aucoin, who then moved to dismiss. Microsoft indicated that, if dismissed, it would simply re-file here. When the defendants admitted that jurisdiction would exist in Massachusetts, transfer was ordered. Judge Wolf has been assigned to the case.
Washington’s long-arm statute allows a court to award attorney’s fees for a party served under the statute who prevails in the action. Judge Martinez determined that Microsoft, when first notified about the jurisdictional issue, told Defendants that it would “vigorously defend against any motion to dismiss,” and after Defendants filed the motion, that it would consent to transfer to Massachusetts only if the motion and request for fees were withdrawn. He determined that such conduct, followed by Microsoft appearing in court and not opposing transfer, warranted the award of fees.