Remote Employees Support Patent Venue
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In a per curiam opinion, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied a petition for a writ of mandamus seeking to direct the district court to dismiss or transfer the underlying case based on improper venue. In doing so, the Court pointed to remote workers residing in the district to find satisfaction in the venue statute. In re Monolithic Power Systems, Inc., Case No. 22-153 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 30, 2022) (Lourie, Chen, Stark, JJ.) (per curiam) (Lourie, J., dissenting)
Bel Power brought suit in the Western District of Texas alleging that Monolithic infringed Bel Power's patents by selling power modules used in electronic devices. Monolithic had four remote employees working from home in the district. Monolithic moved to dismiss or transfer to the Northern District of California, arguing that because it was a Delaware corporation without property in the district, venue was not proper under § 1400(b). The district court denied both requests, finding that Monolithic maintained a business presence in the district as contemplated by § 1400(b) by soliciting employment in the district and providing employees with equipment used at or distributed from their homes as part of their employment responsibilities.
In denying the motion to transfer, the district court found that Monolithic had not established that the Northern District of California was clearly more convenient. Monolithic filed for mandamus seeking to overturn either ruling.
The Federal Circuit denied relief. With regard to venue, the Court reasoned that "the district court's ruling does not involve the type of broad, fundamental, and recurring legal question or usurpation of judicial power that might warrant immediate mandamus review." Instead, the Court credited the factual findings regarding the amount of equipment Monolithic provided to one of its employees in the district for "the sole purpose" of allowing him "to conduct testing and validation as part of his job," and ruled that post-judgment appeal would be an adequate alternative means for attaining relief. On the issue of transfer (reviewed under regional circuit law), the Court denied for failure to establish a clear abuse of discretion, noting that this "is not a case in which there is only one correct outcome."
Judge Lourie dissented, arguing that "[m]ost basically, Monolithic lacks a regular and established place of business in the Western District of Texas, as the statute requires in order for it to be sued there." In his view, "we should not stand back and let the requirements of the statute be eroded by the details of what an employee stores in his or her home." He noted that judicial efficiency counsels against allowing cases to be tried in venues not permitted by the statute only to be retried in a proper venue. Judge Lourie reasoned that the circumstances relied on by the district court, including job advertisement and storage of product and equipment in the venue, were not meaningfully different from those of Celgene v. Mylan Pharms (Fed. Cir, 2021), where venue was deemed improper. He noted that "[t]he district court further erred by not considering the nature and activity of the alleged place of business of the defendant in the district in comparison with that of other places of business of the defendant in other venues" (citing Cray, 871 F.3d at 1364). Rather, as Judge Lourie explained, "our mention of ‘ratification' in Cray of an employee's home as a defendant's regular and established place of business, in the interest of completeness, was not meant to be a leaky sieve to accommodate avoidance of the basic requirements of the statute."
Given the prevalence of remote work, Judge Lourie explained that mandamus was "important to maintain uniformity of the court's clear precedent."
Practice Note: Corporations anticipating or beginning patent litigation should be aware that remote workers may support venue in a district, even where the corporation does not otherwise have a regular and established place of business in the district.
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