WASHINGTON, March 27 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struggled over whether to upend nearly 30 years of law governing patent lawsuits that critics say allows often-baseless litigants to sue in friendly courts, giving them the upper hand over high-technology companies such as Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google.
The justices heard an hour of arguments in an appeal by beverage flavoring company TC Heartland LLC to have a patent infringement suit brought against it by food and beverage company Kraft Heinz Co moved from federal court in Delaware, where it was filed, to Heartland’s home base in Indiana. TC Heartland is challenging a lower court ruling denying a transfer to Indiana.
Even though the case did not involve a lawsuit filed in Texas, the arguments involved the peculiar fact that the bulk of patent litigation in the United States is occurring in a single, rural region of East Texas, far from the centers of technology and innovation in the United States.
Critics have said the federal court there has rulings and procedures favoring entities that generate revenue by suing over patents instead of making products, sometimes called “patent trolls.”
The outcome of the TC Heartland case could be profoundly felt in the East Texas courts. The justices could curtail where patent lawsuits may be launched, limiting them to where a defendant company is incorporated and potentially making it harder to get to trial or score lucrative jury verdicts.
TC Heartland is a subsidiary of Heartland Consumer Products Holdings.
Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham