Cornell Law Review Volume 104 Issue 1

Will Delaware Be Different? An Empirical Study of TC Heartland and the Shift to Defendant Choice of Venue

Why do some venues evolve into litigation havens while others do not? Venues might compete for litigation for various reasons, like enhancing their judges’ prestige and increasing revenues for the local bar. This competition is framed by the party that chooses the venue. Whether plaintiffs or defendants primarily choose venue is crucial because, we argue, the two scenarios are not symmetrical.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods LLC illustrates this dynamic. There, the Court effectively shifted venue choice in many patent infringement cases from plaintiffs to corporate defendants. We use TC Heartland to empirically measure the impact of this shift using an event study, which measures how the stock market reacted to the decision. We find that likely targets of “patent trolls”—entities that own and assert patented inventions but do not otherwise use them—saw their company valuations increase the most due to TC Heartland. This effect is particularly pronounced for Delaware-incorporated firms. Our results match litigation trends since TC Heartland, as new cases have dramatically shifted to the District of Delaware from the Eastern District of Texas, previously the most popular venue for infringement actions.

Why do investors believe Delaware will do better than Texas in curbing patent-troll litigation? Unlike Texas, Delaware’s economy depends on attracting large businesses that pay high incorporation fees; it is thus less likely to encourage disruptive litigation and jeopardize its privileged position in corporate law. More broadly, we explain why giving defendants more control over venue can counterbalance judges’ incentives to increase their influence by encouraging excessive litigation. Drawing on Delaware’s approach to corporate litigation and bankruptcy proceedings, we argue that Delaware will compete for patent litigation through an expert judiciary and well-developed case law that balances both patentee and defendant interests.

 

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