by David Donoghue (of Chicago IP Litigation and Holland & Knight)
The Northern District of Illinois judges are currently considering public comments on a new set of proposed Local Patent Rules – click here to download a copy of the proposed rules. The Court expects to enact a finalized version of the proposed Patent Rules later this year. As currently written, the rules likely will have a significant impact on the way that patent cases are litigated in the Northern District, and may result in an influx of patent cases to the Northern District, which is already among the top five for patent cases. As a result, patent litigators throughout the country should keep an eye on the proposed Patent Rules as they progress through the Court's committee. While the proposed Patent Rules resemble those of the other major patent districts such as the N.D. California and the E.D. Texas, they differ in two rather significant respects:
1. The proposed Patent Rules promote uniformity, not speed.
The proposed Patent Rules contemplate a trial approximately two years after a complaint is filed. During a public comment session, several Northern District judges pointedly stated that, in seeking to promulgate local patent rules, the Court does not want to become a "rocket docket" for patent cases. And the Court does not seek to become the busiest patent docket in the country. Instead, the aim of the local patent rules is simply to promote uniformity and best practices among the judges of the Northern District. The Northern District of Illinois is one of the largest districts in the country, and uniformity among the District's would promote case management predictability for both the Court and the litigants. Each Northern District judge currently schedules patent cases based upon her own experience, with little uniformity among the judges. The proposed Patent Rules attempt to remedy that.
That said, the rules are optional, not mandatory—individual judges will be able to deviate from the proposed Patent Rules. But the proposed Patent Rules at least will provide a starting point for uniformity and a suggested framework for the judges who choose to adhere to them.
2. Defendant opens and closes Markman briefing late in fact discovery.
The biggest deviation from the Northern District of California and Eastern District of Texas patent rules occurs in the claim construction phase. Significantly, the proposed Patent Rules do not contemplate two rounds of simultaneous briefing, as has become commonplace in patent cases. Instead, the proposed Patent Rules provide for a single set of briefs: the accused infringer files the opening brief, the patent holder responds, and the accused infringer replies. Notably, the accused infringer—not the patent holder—submits the initial and final briefs. The accused infringer necessarily will not have the benefit of the patentee's claim construction position at the outset of the briefing. The practical impact of having the accused infringer file the opening claim construction brief remains to be seen, although some practitioners view this provision as having the potential to greatly increase the number of patent cases filed in the Northern District.
At the public comment session held on March 23, the judges on the rules committee explained the rationale behind this provision. Concurrent briefing, they noted, wasted a lot of time. The parties' opening briefs tend to be ships passing in the night—the parties often argue past each other, rendering the opening briefs incomprehensible, or they agree with each other, rendering those points moot. As a result, neither the disputed claims nor the parties' positions are fully understood until the concurrent responsive briefs. The proposed Patent Rules contemplate streamlining the process by eliminating simultaneous briefs.
The judges also addressed their decision to have the accused infringer, rather than the patent holder, begin the briefing. The judges explained that the patent holder's opening argument is often for the "ordinary" meaning of claim terms. As a result, when the patent holder opens the briefing, the accused infringer has no chance to address many of the patent holder's arguments because the patent holder often does not make those arguments until the reply brief. So, the judges explained, the Court and the parties are better served by having the accused infringer open the briefing with the patent holder responding to the accused infringer's claim construction arguments.
Interestingly, a comment was made at the session pointing out that the Court has not decided how to schedule briefing when both parties assert patents against each other, that is, when each party is a patent holder and each party is an accused infringer. A possible resolution would be to allow two sets of parallel briefs with the accused infringer for each set of patents opening the briefing for those patents.
The proposed Patent Rules notably differ from the rules of other courts in two significant respects: the new briefing schedule, and for the fact that they are not aimed at decreasing the time to trial or at significantly growing the Northern District of Illinois's patent docket. Assuming that the Court institutes the proposed Patent Rules with the current claim construction briefing schedule, it will be very interesting to see whether and how the claim construction procedures impact both case outcomes and the number of patent filings in the Northern District of Illinois.
For those interested in the specifics of the proposed Patent Rules, here is a general outline of the timeline and procedure that the Rules outline:
- A standard protective order in place from the beginning of the case, unless and until it is modified, to avoid discovery delays being blamed upon entry of a protective order;
- Automatic document production requirements of plaintiff when initial disclosures are served and of defendant when initial noninfringement and invalidity contentions are served;
- Plaintiff serves initial infringement contentions two weeks after initial disclosures and defendant respond with initial noninfringement and invalidity contentions two weeks after that, followed two weeks later by plaintiff's response to the invalidity contentions;
- Plaintiff files final infringement contentions twenty one weeks after its initial contentions and defendant responds four weeks later with final noninfringement, invalidity and unenforceability contentions (after the final contentions, leave of Court is required for any amendments);
- No party can seek a stay pending reexam after serving its final contentions;
- The claim construction process begins two weeks after defendant's final invalidity contentions are served;
- Defendant files an opening claim construction brief along with a joint appendix including the patents in suit and their prosecution histories consecutively paginated, plaintiff then files a responsive brief within four weeks, and defendant has two weeks to file a reply;
- Fact discovery closes forty two days after the claim construction rulings, which triggers expert discovery followed by a dispositive motion deadline; and
- A trial is contemplated approximately two years after the filing of the complaint.