While the Northern District has made clear that it is not transforming itself into a rocket docket like the Eastern District of Virginia or the Western District of Wisconsin, the newly enacted Local Patent Rules (“Rules” or “LPR”)* are going to have a significant impact on patent litigation filings in Chicago. The cases will not proceed to trial faster than the Northern District’s average for all cases of slightly more than two years, but the path to trial will be significantly different. The changes are even-handed, benefiting both patentholders and accused infringers. One might expect even-handed Rules to have little impact on filings, but in this case patentholders will likely decide that the Rules provide enough value to overcome the portions of the Rules that benefit accused infringers. The Rules, therefore, will draw patent cases to the Northern District. Here are the particular elements of the Rules that will attract patent plaintiffs to the Northern District:
1. Substantive Initial Disclosures & Document Production.
LPR 2.1 requires both parties to exchange substantive, non-evasive Rule 26(a) Initial Disclosures. Furthermore, LPR 2.1(b) requires that along with its Initial Disclosures, an accused infringer produce: 1) documents sufficient to show the operation and construction of each element of any product or process specifically accused in the Complaint; and 2) copies of all known prior art. This early document production, which is generally contemplated by Rule 26 but almost never done in practice, will be a major draw for patentholders. The ability to get immediate technical information in discovery, without the expense of serving document requests, is significant. It allows patentholders to have information before preparing their Initial Infringement Contentions. It also allows patentholders to evaluate the strength of their cases early using the technical information produced by the accused infringers, before incurring significant discovery expenses.
But while LPR 2.1 will attract patent plaintiffs, it also benefits accused infringers. LPR 2.1 also requires patentholders to make an initial document production, and patentholders have a more significant obligation. They must produce not just documents sufficient to show, but all documents regarding: 1) any sale, offer for sale or use of the patented invention before filing; 2) design, reduction to practice or invention of the patented technology generally; 3) all communications with the PTO (the prosecution history) for the patents in suit and any patents from which they claim priority; and 4) ownership of the patent. Additionally, as with accused infringers, patentholders must identify which documents correspond to each of the four categories. Having this early information will allow accused infringers to evaluate their defenses early in the case and prepare for early dispositive motions such as motions challenging ownership or validity based upon a bar date. And the documents will allow accused infringers to update affirmative defenses or add counterclaims before there could be any prejudice.
Finally, the accused infringers’ production obligation regarding its products is only triggered if the patentholder specifically identifies the accused products in its complaint. This will strongly encourage plaintiffs to identify the accused products in the complaint. A standard which comports with the Twombly/Iqbal pleading standards – click here to read my article on the uneven application of the Twombly standard between patentholders and accused infringers.
2. Defendant opens and closes Markman briefing.
Most Districts either have two rounds of concurrent claim construction briefing or a traditional opening-response-reply schedule with the patentholder opening and replying. Significantly, the Rules provide for a single set of briefs with the accused infringer—not the patent holder—submitting the initial and final briefs. Writing first and last benefits the accused infringer. But economically, the patentholder saves money by only writing one brief and can make any follow up arguments during a hearing or seek a sur-reply if the Court does not hold a hearing.
3. Late Claim Construction briefing.
The final major draw for patentholders is the late claim construction proceedings. In addition to cost savings in the briefing process, the claim construction is scheduled during the later portion of a discovery period that is scheduled to end forty-five days after the Court rules on claim construction. Maintaining pre-claim construction uncertainty through most of discovery benefits patentholders. Furthermore, the Rules make clear that a judge can disregard early dispositive motions that would require claim construction before the claim construction contemplated by the Rules. So, patentholders may face fewer early summary judgment motions.
The Rules are evenhanded, benefiting both patentholders and accused infringers. But the specific benefits afforded patentholders will still drive patentholders to file in the Northern District of Illinois over other courts, some that may have faster times to trial, with different rules.