Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) are trying to aid app developers in an important case that will decide whether the developers are protected from lawsuits filed by so-called patent trolls. In the latest twist, the case has a new judge. U.S. District Judge T. John Ward is stepping down from the bench to join the law firm of his son, T. Johnny Ward Jr., an East Texas attorney who has obtained multi-million dollar patent verdicts against large technology companies.
Judge Ward was instrumental in making the District of Eastern Texas a favorite forum for patent plaintiffs by changing procedural rules to make the district a “rocket docket. According to American Lawyer, these changes and a reputation for plaintiff-friendly juries made the small towns of East Texas a national hotspot for patent litigation.
The current state of that litigation is reflected by the app developer case, which was launched by Lodsys Inc, a shell company commonly known as a patent troll. Lodsys has no real employees but created a business by obtaining a handful of patents and then filing lawsuits against the makers of Angry Birds and other developers.
Many of the developers do not have the resources for a Texas patent fight and are pleading with Apple and Google to help them fight the troll. Apple has filed to intervene in the case, arguing that it has a license for the patents that extend to the developers. Google has initiated a separate proceeding to invalidate the patents.
For the last two months, the case has been confined to procedural matters and the terms of Apple’s license are sealed so it is for now difficult to predict the outcome of the case.
A court filing on Wednesday by Chief Judge David Folsom confirmed that all of Judge Ward’s case were transferred to him this week. Judge Folsom has been on the East Texas bench for 16 years and says he will retire in March.