The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has emerged over the past decade as a major hot spot for intellectual property litigation.
The Central District may in fact be one of the best places in the world for international companies to handle their intellectual property disputes. A recent study by Stanford Law Professor Mark A. Lemley found that between 2000 and 2010, the Central District experienced 2,289 cases — the greatest number of litigated patent cases in the country for that time period. This trend has only continued from 2010 to 2014, with 1,652 patent cases filed in the CACD.
Copyright and trademark filings in the Central District courts have also sustained significant levels over the past decade. Between Jan. 1, 2004, and April 17, 2014, the Central District has had 4,814 copyright case filings and 4,609 trademark case filings.
Several geographical and procedural advantages are thought to account for the rise in popularity of the Central District, including a speedy average time to trial resolution, a flexible alternative dispute resolution system, and the absence of local rules for patent cases. But perhaps most important factor affect the popularity of the Central District is the reputation of the judicial bench, which is randomly selected, diverse in composition, and permitted great procedural flexibility.
A Randomly Selected Judicial Bench Provides for Unbiased Adjudications
In the Central District, judges are randomly assigned to each case. This institutional commitment to impartiality serves as an attractant for both domestic and international litigants seeking fair, accurate and expeditious judgments.
Random case assignment effects the dual purpose of maintaining fairness at trial and protecting the due process rights of litigants. By imposing a lottery-based system, Central District courts guarantee that each judge will be selected randomly, without regard to gender, race, age, or political or personal affiliation from the large pool of 38 judges and 25 magistrate judges. In addition, random selection of judges maintains the expectation of objectivity in the eye of the public, both domestic and international. If citizens, inventors and industries cannot trust the courts to rule with impartiality, they are less likely to risk development and commercialization of their most valuable ideas.
Today, the lottery procedure in the Central District ensures that judge-shopping is nearly impossible. This feature is of particular importance to international litigants, as they do not have to fear that a case can be steered to a preferred judge.
A Diverse Judicial Bench and Intellectual Property-Seasoned Judges
Southern California is home to many businesses in many different fields, as well as to the aerospace, entertainment, software and videogame industries, thus giving rise to many patent, trademark and copyright cases in the Central District. Because of this, the judges in the Central District also have substantial experience presiding over a diverse range of IP cases. Central District judges tend to better understand the unique issues raised in IP cases, and recognize the nuances of intellectual property law.
The 38 district court judges assigned to the Central District include: 11 women, the first LGBT person to be appointed to the federal bench in California, four African-Americans, four Mexican and Spanish Americans, four Asian-Americans, three individuals born to immigrant parents, and one foreign-born individual. In fact, the current chief judge of the Central District, George King, is one of the most respected in the Central District and was actually born in another country. Born in Shanghai, China, King assumed his new position in September 2012.
As in the case of juries, a more varied assortment of individuals comprising the bench often leads to better informed, more accurate opinions. In May 2009, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor reiterated this viewpoint. She articulated, on the record, her view that judges are the product of their background and experiences, and that they bring those experiences to their views of and perspectives in a case. In the judge’s words, “Our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.”
If companies outside the U.S. have a strong IP case, there is a good chance they will succeed in the Central District. On the other hand, if they have a bad case, they may lose. The Central District simply doesn’t suffer the biases faced in other jurisdictions against non-U.S. companies.
The Central District is the best place for non-U.S. companies to litigate their IP cases in the U.S. Notwithstanding the incomparable weather and climate, a randomly selected, diverse and IP-seasoned bench undoubtedly contributes to the growing popularity of the Central District.
By Daniel Cislo and Michael H. Anderson