WACO, Texas (CN) — Alan Albright arrived at the Western District of Texas in 2018, appointed by then-President Donald Trump as the top federal judge in Waco. He spent years in private practice before that, handling patent cases for decades.
Within months, Albright was positioning himself as the “go-to judge for patent cases,” as Clause 8, a podcast focused on intellectual property law, put it. He advertised himself publicly, speaking at conferences and touting the benefits of filing patent suits in his courtroom.
Albright was the only district judge in Waco. By filing a lawsuit there, lawyers could be almost certain they would get Albright.
“You can be assured if you're in my court, I will have read everything you have submitted," Albright told members of the American Intellectual Property Law Association at a meeting in October 2019. His presentation was entitled “Why You Should File Your Next Patent Case Across the Street from the ‘Hey Sugar,’” a reference to a nearby shop.
The sales pitch worked: By 2020, one study found, Albright was seeing hundreds of patent cases annually – more than 20% of all patent cases in the country.
Now, those days seem to be coming to an end.
In an order from July, Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, the top judge in the Western District of Texas, issued new rules for patent cases. The order specifically targets Albright’s court, redistributing patent cases from Waco throughout the district.
It could be years before Albright finishes his current docket of patent cases. Lawyers who work with him expect he’ll remain a major player in the field, and they have nothing but praise for the judge.
Still, the rise and fall of Albright’s patent docket mirrors another court in Texas.
For decades, the Eastern District of Texas was the go-to place for patent suits, seeing around 40% of nationwide cases in its heyday. It developed a controversial reputation for accommodating “non-practicing entities,” companies that own patents but don’t produce goods with them. Critics sometimes call these companies “patent trolls.”
Courts intervened, including in the 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision in TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods. New rules made it harder to sue international companies in places like the small East Texas town of Marshall.
Under the new rules, it was easier to find a basis to sue in Albright’s Waco court. The Western District of Texas includes Austin, a major tech hub where brands like Google and Facebook maintain operations.
As Albright’s caseload grew, he too came under scrutiny.
In a bipartisan letter in 2021, Thom Tillis, a Republic senator from North Carolina, and Patrick Leahy, a Democratic senator from Vermont, asked Chief Justice John Roberts to look into Albright’s court. The “extreme concentration of patent litigation” was creating “unseemly and inappropriate conduct,” they wrote.
Roberts seemed to agree. In his year-end report for 2021, the chief justice zeroed in on the way patent plaintiffs chose venue.
While Roberts didn’t name Albright specifically, he expressed concern about rules like ones in the Western District that allowed a patent plaintiff to “select a particular judge to hear a case.” He warned the phenomenon could hurt “public confidence in the courts” and called for “random assignment of cases.”
Talk to lawyers who have had cases with Albright and the picture gets more complicated. Many, including both plaintiff and defense lawyers, described Albright as a fair-minded judge who simply loves patent cases and is good at them.
“There are benefits of having a patent case heard by Judge Albright,” Andy Powell, a Waco patents lawyer who typically handles defense, said in an email. Albright and his staff are “extremely well-versed in patent issues," Powell said.