The Eastern District of Texas, patent litigation’s current “rocket docket,” is losing steam. But the special rules of procedure for patent trials that Marshall, Texas, judge John Ward first implemented in 2001 have spread well beyond his East Texas courthouse. Other federal districts with special patent rules are starting to pick up the slack, and a new bill pending in Congress could mean an influx of federal funding for judges with the heaviest patent dockets.

Judge Ward modeled his now-famous rules after those pioneered by Judge Ronald Whyte in the Northern District of California. By tweaking discovery procedures, he cut the duration of patent cases — measured from the initial management conference to trial — from two to three years to as little as 12 to 14 months. That speediness, combined with the local jury pool’s penchant for giant verdicts, made Ward’s court a patent plaintiff’s haven. In 2005 the rest of the Eastern District of Texas adopted similar rules to streamline patent trials. But the resulting influx of cases made the Eastern District a victim of its own success. Cases in Ward’s court now linger an average of two years before trial, according to the judge. That delay has pushed some plaintiffs to find other districts with less traffic. The Northern, Southern, and Western districts of Texas are all currently debating the possibility of adopting rules from the Eastern District to speed patent cases.

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