Addressing jurisdictional transfer issues in a divided opinion, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit granted the extraordinary relief of issuing a mandamus order to transfer a patent infringement case, finding that the district court effectively failed to consider the merits of the defendant’s transfer motion even though the district court weighed all relevant transfer factors. In re: Google, Inc., Case No. 17-107 (Fed. Cir., Feb. 23, 2017) (Prost, CJ) (Linn, J, dissenting) (non-precedential). 

This case was initiated when Eolas Technologies sued Google in the Eastern District of Texas for patent infringement. Eolas and Google had litigated against each other prior to this suit. Eolas had previously sued Google in the Eastern District of Texas for patent infringement involving related technology. In the prior case, Google’s motions to transfer and for mandamus were both denied. Google also filed a separate declaratory judgment action relating to other Eolas technology in the Northern District of California.  

On the same day that it sued Google, Eolas also sued Amazon and Walmart entities for infringement of the same patent in the same court. Those defendants separately filed motions to transfer venue for convenience to the Northern District of California, each within the same week. The district court denied Walmart’s motion, then Google’s, then Amazon’s. The court issued each decision weeks apart from the preceding decision. In deciding Google’s transfer motion, pursuant to 28 USC § 1404(a), the district court weighed each of the four public-interest factors and four private-interest factors mandatorily considered for a motion to transfer for convenience in the Fifth Circuit. See TS Tech (IP Update, Vol. 12, No. 2).

The district court found that the co-pending litigation with Walmart and Amazon in the same district involving the same patent, as well as the Eastern District’s institutional knowledge relevant to the case obtained from prior litigation between the parties, weighted against transfer. Each of these elements was considered as part of the “other practical considerations” private-interest factor. With respect to the factor requiring balancing the location of witnesses and documentary evidence, the district court found that the location of witnesses and documents at Google’s Northern California headquarters only slightly favored transfer when compared to Eolas’s single employee in the Eastern District of Texas. On balance, the district court found that transfer was not warranted. Google sought mandamus from the Federal Circuit.

The Federal Circuit concluded that the district court improperly overemphasized the “other practical considerations” factor and underemphasized the disparity between Google’s geographic ties to sources of proof as compared to Eolas. According to the Court, the mere co-pendency of related suits in a particular district could not serve as the basis for denying a motion to transfer because such co-pendency would automatically tip the balance in the non-movant’s favor regardless of the existence of co-pending transfer motions and their underlying merits. The Court further found that the Eastern District’s prior experience with the litigants was untenable because the judge presiding over the previous case had retired. The Court also found that the district court did not afford the “relative ease of access to sources of proof” private-interest factor enough weight. The Federal Circuit parted ways with the district court on this factor, noting that it was perhaps the most important of the eight and that it significantly favored Google. In view of these considerations, the Federal Circuit issued a mandamus order transferring the case to the Northern District of California.

The dissent would have denied mandamus relief because it was undisputed that the district court considered all relevant factors, and the heightened mandamus standard of review did not permit the Court to reweigh those factors. Specifically, Judge Linn opined that the majority went beyond its limited role in the mandamus context of assessing whether the district court fully considered each of the eight transfer considerations. According to Linn, the Court rebalanced the considerations and substituted its own judgment, thereby usurping the district court’s role in weighing the factors and making the final determination. The dissent also argued that Google did not show a clear abuse of the district court’s considerable discretion or that the ruling produced the patently erroneous result necessary for the relief sought.