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US Supreme Court ruling may shrink tide of frivolous patent lawsuits against Apple [u]

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday issued a critical decision that could reduce the number of patent lawsuits tech companies like Apple face on a yearly basis. [Updated with correction on case limits]




In an 8-0 ruling, the court sided with drink flavoring company TC Heartland against Kraft Heinz, arguing that patent infringement suits can only be filed in the jurisdiction where the target company is incorporated or where "the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business." The ruling overturns a 2016 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which said that lawsuits should be possible anywhere a defendant's products are on the market.

So-called patent trolls —holding firms that don't sell a tangible product —will often file lawsuits against businesses like Apple through a single federal district in east Texas known to favorable to plaintiffs in patent cases. This is despite many of the defendants being based in California, and many of the plaintiffs having little to no presence in the Eastern District.

Even bigger plaintiffs will sometimes choose the Eastern District, an example being Nokia, which is still engaged in a global legal battle with Apple.

Over 40 percent of all patent suits reportedly pass through the Eastern District, 90 percent of that number originating from patent trolls.

The Supreme Court ruling is unlikely to affect the likes of Nokia, but may deter smaller patent holders with frivolous claims. A risk is that federal courts in California could become clogged with patent cases, slowing down an already strained system.