Dissecting the TC Heartland Ruling – What Does This Mean for Patent Owners?

By Alesha M. Dominique

In an 8-0 decision in TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC, No. 16-341, the U.S. Supreme Court placed tighter limits on where a patent owner may file a suit for patent infringement by holding that “a domestic corporation ‘resides’ only in its State of incorporation for purposes of the patent venue statute.”  The Court’s decision reverses Federal Circuit precedent that allowed a patent owner to file suit anywhere a defendant made sales.

In TC Heartland LLC, Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC (“Kraft Foods”) brought a patent infringement suit against flavored drink mix maker TC Heartland LLC (“TC Heartland”) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.  TC Heartland, organized under Indiana law and headquartered in Indiana, moved to transfer venue to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, arguing that under the patent venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b), it did not “resid[e]” in Delaware and had no “regular and established place of business” in Delaware.  TC Heartland based its arguments on the Supreme Court’s decision in Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U.S. 222, 226 (1957), where the Court concluded that for purposes of § 1400(b) a domestic corporation “resides” only in its State of incorporation.

Relying on Federal Court precedent, the district court rejected TC Heartland’s arguments, and the Federal Circuit denied a petition for a writ of mandamus.  The Federal Circuit concluded that subsequent amendments to § 1391, the general statute covering venue in other types of civil actions, now supplies the definition of “resides” and allows a plaintiff to bring a patent infringement lawsuit against a corporation in any district in which the corporation is subject to personal jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court reversed the Federal Circuit and concluded that subsequent amendments to § 1391 did not modify the meaning of § 1400(b) as interpreted by Fourco.   The Court therefore held that a domestic corporation “resides” only in its State of incorporation for purposes of the patent venue statute.  The decision is available here for download.

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