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Lufkin, Texas, is fast becoming the next favorite destination for patent plaintiffs. The sleepy town of less than 40,000 residents, said to be home to more pottery manufacturers than software companies, is now ground zero for some high-profile patent litigation. In June, Apple Computer filed three patent suits against Creative Technology in Lufkin. The Singapore-based company had sued Apple early this year, claiming that the popular iPod infringes on its patents. Also this summer, patent holding company Anascape Ltd. sued Microsoft Corp. and Nintendo in Lufkin for allegedly infringing on its patents on game controllers. So far this year, at least 19 patent cases have been filed in Lufkin. Last year there was only one patent case on the docket. How to explain the sudden interest in a town that has been known as a leading supplier of the wood preservative creosote? M. Craig Tyler, a partner in the Austin, Texas, office of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, says the crowded dockets in Marshall and Tyler, two Texas cities popular among plaintiffs because of their reputation for processing patent cases to trial in under 12 months, are driving some plaintiffs to file their cases in outlying courts in the Eastern District, where they still get the benefit of local patent rules. The dockets in Marshall and Tyler, according to Tyler, are beginning “to split at the seams.” He says it’s now taking more than 24 months before a case gets scheduled for trial. A PATENT-SAVVY JUDGE Tyler describes Lufkin as a “really nice town.” And one main attraction is Judge Ron Clark, a 2002 Bush appointee and former Texas state representative. Clark, who lives and works in Beaumont, Texas, travels to Lufkin to cover the docket there. He is viewed as a fair judge and appears to have a real interest in patent cases, according to Tyler. Clark’s most-noted patent decision so far compelled a plaintiff that had won a $78.9 million jury verdict to enter into a licensing agreement with the defendant. On July 6, Clark denied Finisar Corp.’s request for a permanent injunction against DirecTV Group, ruling that because Finisar does not sell a competing product, it will not suffer irreparable harm and will adequately be compensated by a license. “Plaintiffs will feel very comfortable filing patent-infringement cases in his court, where they can get a patent-savvy judge and the benefit of the Eastern District’s local patent rules, but a smaller docket than Marshall, Tyler, or Texarkana [also in Texas],” Tyler says. He notes one other plus: Out-of-state defense counsel will have to drive an hour or more in the Texas heat to get to the Lufkin courthouse from the nearest airport.
Xenia P. Kobylarz is a reporter for The Recorder , an ALM publication based in San Francisco where this article first ran in.

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