Monday, August 18, 2014

Google asks appeals court to move Rockstar patent cases against Android device makers out of Texas

Google really doesn't want its Android device makers to mess with the Rockstar Consortium (which is owned by Apple, BlackBerry, Ericsson, Microsoft, and Sony) in Texas. Last December it brought a declaratory judgment action against the Rockstar Android cases in the Northern District of California, and the chief district judge held that California was a proper venue because Rockstar's patent lawsuits advance Apple's interests (Apple is headquartered in that district). As I said at the time, the Rockstar Consortium is so opaque that Apple isn't necessarily responsible for those lawsuits -- but responsible or not, Apple is a potential beneficiary.

But the California decision didn't persuade Judge Gilstrap in the Eastern District of Texas (who has previously been overruled by the Federal Circuit because he denied transfers of venue) to put his case on hold or to transfer it to California. When two district courts practically disagree on the proper venue, clarity can only be provided by an appeals court. That's why Google filed a petition for writ of mandamus (i.e., a request for the appeals court to interfere with an ongoing case, as opposed to an appeal in the narrow sense of the word, which relates to a final ruling) with the Federal Circuit last week. The objective is to have the Texas cases transferred to California (where Google developed Android) or at least to stay the Texas litigations until the California case has been resolved (which would have the same effect as a transfer).

This is what I expected to happen. In fact, I expected it a while ago. In February I wrote that "[w]e m[ight] very well see one or more mandamus petitions in this context" because "these defendants won't leave a stone unturned in their attempts to move the matter out of Texas." In March, I predicted that Judge Gilstrap wouldn't grant the Android device makers' motion to transfer venue, but that his decision wouldn't "dissuade Google and its OEMs from filing a somewhat likely mandamus petition with the Federal Circuit." I noted that Google could lose in Texas or win in California, but "especially with a view to pretrial decisions (summary judgment etc.), the Northern District of California would clearly be a better venue for the defendants in these cases." There we go.

While Apple and Samsung recently dropped all of their ex-US patent infringement actions against each other and Google (jointly with Motorola) reached a similar ceasefire agreement (even of worldwide scope) with Apple, the Rockstar lawsuits are continuing. In addition to still dealing with Apple in the U.S. (directly and through Rockstar) Samsung now basically has a two-front war with Microsoft: a contract action in New York plus that Rockstar lawsuit in Texas.

Some of the same players (as in the direct disputes between certain key organizations) are involved. Quinn Emanuel, the firm that had the lead in fending off Apple and Microsoft's lawsuits against Android (except for Samsung's defensive efforts in Germany, where credit for preventing Apple from ever enforcing any software patent against Samsung goes to the firms of Rospatt, a litigation firm, and Zimmermann & Partner, a patent prosecution firm with considerable litigation expertise) to the point that neither of those players ever achieved significant leverage, brought the mandamus petition against Judge Gilstrap's "what is filed in Texas stays in Texas" approach. I think it's very likely that Quinn Emanuel will defuse the Rockstar lawsuits just the way it defused the lawsuits brought by two of Rockstar's largest owners. But that is going to be more feasible in the Northern District of California than in the Eastern District of Texas.

[Update] I have a small correction to make. While the official caption of the Federal Circuit cases is In re Google, Google is (which comes as no surprise) not alone in this effort. For example, Samsung also filed a petition, and that's the one I downloaded first from the docket and published here. There are several related case numbers. [/Update]

If you're interested in further detail, here's Samsung's petition:

14-08-14 Google Petition for Writ of Mandamus (Rockstar Cases) by Florian Mueller

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