Federal Circuit Orders Transfer Decision in Aire Technology-Apple Patent Dispute

An opinion issued Tuesday by the Federal Circuit said that a transfer decision pending in the Western District of Texas is a suit brought by Aire Technology Ltd. against Apple Inc. should be decided as soon as possible. The opinion responded to a petition for mandamus filed by Apple arguing that the district court’s delay of its request to transfer the case while instructing the parties to proceed with discovery was improper.

Aire filed suit against Apple in 2021. The next year, Apple moved for transfer to the Northern District of California on the basis that resolution would be easier there owing to the presence of facts, evidence, and witnesses in the district.

The parties proceeded through venue discovery, but before the court ruled on the motion, Judge Alan D. Albright sua sponte ordered them to complete fact discovery on the merits, which he extended for an additional 30 weeks, and then undertake another six weeks of re-briefing of the transfer motion before he would rule on Apple’s request.

Apple then filed a petition seeking review of that order, notably not the first Judge Albright’s transfer-related decisions that resulted in appeal.

In this week’s opinion, the panel explained that though district courts have discretion in managing their own dockets, appellate courts “may grant mandamus to correct a clearly arbitrary refusal to act on a longstanding pending transfer motion.”

Noting that the parties agree that no additional discovery or briefing is necessary to resolve the transfer motion, the Federal Court said that it was “a clear abuse of discretion to require the parties to expend additional party and court resources litigating the substantive matters of the case while Apple’s motion to transfer unnecessarily lingers on the docket.”

The panel reasoned that judicial economy requires resolution of the transfer motion first and foremost, as the present course of action might mean that merits decisions are presented to both the transferor and transferee courts.

Without deciding the issue, the Federal Circuit remanded with instructions that the transfer motion “proceed expeditiously as the first order of business.”

Apple is represented by Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and Ropes & Gray LLP and Aire Technology by BC Law Group.