Apple Stores reshuffled in Texas to foil patent trolls

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The lesser-spotted patent troll.
Don’t feed the trolls.
Photo: Andrew Becraft/Flickr CC

Apple is closing a pair of retail stores in east Texas, and opening a new one nearby to take on their traffic. But this has little to do with customer convenience; it’s likely all about patent lawsuits.

The move could easily save Apple millions of dollars.

Wait. What?

The Apple Store locations in Fresno and Plano are the only ones in the Eastern District of Texas. That’s almost certainly why they are being shuttered.

That particular district is famous as the preferred feeding ground of patent trolls. A large majority of all patent infringement lawsuits in America are filled in this district, many of them against Apple. There was one just last month, for example.

Decades ago, the Eastern District of Texas instituted rules designed to speed up patent lawsuits. There are restrictions on the amount of paperwork that can be filed, and even limits on how long lawyers can speak in court. These rules make it much quicker and cheaper for a small company to bring a patent infringement lawsuit against a larger one.

While this would be commendable if it helped struggling inventors fight back against huge competitors, the primary beneficiaries are patent trolls. These are companies or individuals that do no research and produce no products. They buy patents and then use these to sue other companies for licensing fees. Apple said of one such troll: it “makes no products, has no employees, creates no jobs, has no U.S. presence, and is exploiting our patent system to seek royalties for technology Apple invented.”

Bye-bye Eastern District of Texas

The Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that lawsuits against companies must be filed in a District where the company does business. Which is the likely explanation of why Apple is going to stop doing business in the Eastern District of Texas.

It announced today that Apple Stonebriar in Frisco, TX and Apple Willow Bend in Plano, TX will close on April 12. Both are located just outside of Dallas, TX.

They will be replaced with Apple Galleria Dallas on April 13. Which is, surely not coincidentally, in the Northern District of Texas. Many of the new location’s employees will be from the two shuttered stores, according to a statement from Apple.

To be clear, the Apple statement on this reshuffling says “we’ve made the decision to consolidate stores,” and contains no mention of lawsuits. So it could be a lucky accident that the change will prevent patent trolls from demanding millions of dollars in bogus license fees in a venue that seems very friendly to them.