The America Invents Act (AIA) prohibits joining multiple parties in a single patent case when the only thing the parties have in common is that they are alleged to infringe the same patent. The AIA does not mark the end of large, multi-defendant patent cases, however. Instead of a single lawsuit naming dozens of parties, large patent cases are being created through Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) proceedings.
An MDL is a mechanism for combining related cases for pretrial purposes. Through the MDL process, cases filed in various courts are transferred to a single judge for pretrial administration. When the MDL is ready for trial, each individual case is transferred back to the district where it was filed.
An MDL proceeding is initiated by motion. To prevail on a motion, the moving party must show that: (1) there are “one or more common questions of fact” in civil actions pending in different districts; (2) the transfer “will be for the convenience of parties and witnesses;” and (3) the transfer “will promote the just and efficient conduct” of the actions. See 28 U.S.C. § 1407(a). If the motion is granted, the original transferor courts lose jurisdiction and the transferee court assumes authority to oversee all pretrial proceedings, including claim construction and dispositive motions.
The District of Minnesota has had one patent MDL in its history. The case, In re Vehicle Tracking and Security System Patent Litigation, is currently pending before Judge Donovan W. Frank and Magistrate Judge Steven E. Rau. There are likely to be more. When considering where an MDL should be located, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation considers several factors, including the convenience of the parties, the location of relevant documents and witnesses, where the lawsuits were filed, and how busy the candidate districts are. Facts that favor the District of Minnesota include its central location, the existence of local procedures governing pretrial practice in patent cases, and a bench with a wealth of experience in the area.