Law360 (May 11, 2020, 5:53 PM EDT) -- The COVID-19 pandemic continues to curb in-person proceedings in patent-heavy jurisdictions, with the Federal Circuit saying Monday that all oral arguments will be held by telephone next month and the Western District of Texas calling off trials through the end of June.
The Federal Circuit announced Monday that, as it had already done in April and May, it will hold arguments over the phone during June.
"Given the continued public health restrictions and limits on public access to the courthouse, the court will also provide live audio access to such arguments," the court said.
Not every case that would have been heard in person during normal times has been conducted over the phone. The court has canceled numerous arguments outright and said those cases will instead be decided on the briefs. In recent days, the court has done that for at least seven cases that were initially scheduled to be argued in June.
The Federal Circuit held numerous oral arguments by phone during April and May, and attorneys told Law360 last month that the unprecedented experiment has largely been going smoothly.
The experience dreaded by many was "surprisingly pleasant," as Locke Lord LLP partner Hugh Balsam put it, largely thanks to thorough planning by the clerk's office. Yet many said they would prefer to be able to see the judges face to face, whenever that becomes feasible.
Meanwhile, Western District of Texas Chief Judge Orlando Garcia said in an order Friday that due to the pandemic, all civil and criminal bench and jury trials set to begin between now and June 30 will be continued to a date to be set by the presiding judge. He said judges could continue to hold in-person hearings and conferences, but that "parties are encouraged" to request to participate by phone or video.
In another order last month, Judge Garcia said that trials set to begin on or before May 31 would be continued.
Under that order, one patent case, in which Roku is accused of infringing MV3 Partners LLC's streaming media patents, was set for trial in the district on June 1, after Judge Alan Albright rejected Roku's request to postpone it due to the pandemic.
On Monday, Judge Albright set a telephone conference in the case for Wednesday, presumably to discuss a new trial date, although the brief order did not provide details. Attorneys for Roku and MV3 Partners could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Roku moved for a postponement in early April, expressing concern that many of its attorneys are based in Virginia and Maryland, which are under stay-at-home orders that could prevent the attorneys from traveling to Waco, Texas, for the trial. It also said that a large gathering in the courthouse would risk the health of jurors, parties and court staff.
Judge Albright, who touts his court as a place to get patent cases to trial quickly, denied Roku's motion on April 8.
"Because trial is still several weeks away, it is premature to continue the case at this time," he wrote.
Since then, the case has been headed to trial, with the parties filing motions and proposed jury instructions in the past few days that reference June 1 as the trial date.
Spurred in part by Judge Albright's penchant for speedy trials and for not ruling on motions to invalidate patents as ineligible early in cases, the Western District of Texas has become the busiest patent court in America in 2020.
There have been 263 patent suits filed in the district so far this year, ahead of the second-place district of Delaware with 259 and nearly double the third-busiest patent court, the Eastern District of Texas, with 134. In all of 2019, there were 288 patent cases filed in the Western District of Texas.
The Roku case is MV3 Partners LLC v. Roku Inc., case number 6:18-cv-00308, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
--Editing by Haylee Pearl.
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