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When the Eastern District of Virginia, which once had the reputation as an IP “rocket docket,” became overwhelmed with patent lawsuits several years ago, the judges advised lawyers to go somewhere else. That “somewhere else” turned out to be the U.S. district court in a place called Marshall, Texas, about 100 miles east of Dallas. But now Marshall may be approaching the Virginia district’s experience. In the last several years, patent lawyers have flocked to Marshall, a small northeastern Texas town of 25,000, because of its speedy court process, patent-enthusiastic judges and juries considered ideal for hearing intellectual property cases. This year alone, the court has seen 59 patent cases, more than triple the total in 2003, which saw just 14 patent suits. Most recently, in a case that plaintiff lawyers say could produce large-scale damage awards, a Florida company filed a patent infringement suit against Cisco Systems Inc., alleging that the world’s largest maker of computer-networking equipment is using its technology in some of its products. ConnecTel v. Cisco Systems Inc., No. 204-CV-396 (E.D. Texas). In another high-stakes case, in 2002, Intel Corp. agreed to pay Integraph Corp. $150 million after a Marshall judge ruled that Intel’s microprocessors infringed two Intergraph patents. Integraph Corp. v. Intel Corp., No. 201-CV-160. But patent attorneys say Marshall’s docket is starting to get heavier and slower — a big drawback since one of the main attractions is quick service. It’s only a matter of time, they say, before lawyers start searching for another venue. “That’s what happened in Virginia. The judges over there got inundated with work and finally said, ‘Time out,’” said Charles Baker, an intellectual property litigator with Porter & Hedges in Houston, who has tried cases in Marshall and noted that patent lawyers are always on the lookout for hot new venues. “This is nothing new or different,” Baker said. “It’s just the venues have changed from year to year. I think what people are looking for are these factors that Marshall has — access to a large metropolitan area, judges who are willing to accept these cases and a fast track. Word gets out and the next thing you know there’s a lot of cases being filed in a particular area.” But a court’s popularity has its limits, he added. “What happens in the natural consequences of this is either courts announce delays, or lawyers start noticing that their cases get put out further,” Baker said. Patent attorney B. Todd Patterson of Moser Patterson & Sheridan in Houston, has noticed just that. In recent years, he has settled four cases as defense counsel in patent infringement cases in Marshall. Currently, he’s the lead plaintiff’s counsel in another patent case, and he’s consulting on a fifth. “They’re getting backlogged,” Patterson said of Marshall. “Now we’re seeing a little more time to get to the scheduling order.” San Francisco attorney Henry Bunsow, who has eight patent suits pending in Marshall, said he has no trouble convincing clients that it is a good place to do business. “I tell them, ‘We’re gonna get a fair shake in Marshall, Texas, and we’re not going to have to wait forever,’” he said. Then he points out the financial advantages. “And you can cut �legal fees in half by going to Marshall, Texas,” he said. “If I have a choice between a Chicago or a New York, I’m certainly �going to pick Marshall.” Judges are the key So what’s the big legal attraction in a town whose claim to fame is an annual fire ant festival? The judges, lawyers say. Specifically, District Judge T. John Ward, who joined the bench in 1999 and helped create what is known in legal circles as a rocket docket for patent cases. He did this by adopting rules that encourage the setting of quick trial dates and firm discovery deadlines. And where there have been discovery disputes, he has made himself available. But more than all that, lawyers say, what may perhaps be Ward’s strongest trait is that he actually likes patent cases. “That to me is the big deal. You could have a rocket docket in Minnesota or New Jersey, but if the judges don’t like patent cases, it doesn’t make sense. These [Marshall] judges say they like them and they act like they like them,” said attorney Daniel Perez of Winstead Sechrest & Minick in Dallas. Perez is representing ConnecTel of Miami Beach, Fla., in Cisco. While he is a plaintiffs’ attorney in Cisco, he has served as a defense counsel in three other patent suits in Marshall, all of which settled for undisclosed amounts. Given his experience on both sides of the docket, Perez believes Marshall is a fair venue for both plaintiffs and defendants. Baker, who has defended several computer manufacturers in patent suits in Marshall, credits Marshall’s judges for establishing fair ground rules. “They don’t put up with any discovery disputes or any shenanigans,” Baker said. “Some federal judges make it very well known that they don’t like to hear these cases.” Judge Ward admits he’s pretty busy these days. But he’s not burned out, at least not yet. “I’m sure I’ve got more than I need. But I don’t know what the numbers are,” he said. “It’s obvious that they’ve increased.” Tresa Baldas is a reporter with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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