Part of the reason is the Eastern District of Virginia's "rocket docket." Plaintiffs find any way they can to get a case heard here because it is the fastest court in the nation. And with record numbers of patent lawsuits being filed nationally, we are seeing more patent cases here in recent years.
The Twitter case is much like most of the other patent cases filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk in that none of the parties is from here.
Dinesh Agarwal, a Northern Virginia patent attorney, hit upon an idea for his own patent in the 1990s.
His wife is a big fan of celebrities. She follows them in all the glossy gossip magazines and on the Internet.
"He said, 'You know, there ought to be a way for famous people to let you know what they're doing,' " said Jonathan Suder, a Fort Worth, Texas, attorney representing Agarwal.
It took Agarwal a few years, in his spare time, to figure it out. In 2002, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded him patent No. 6,408,309, called "Method and System for Creating an Interactive Virtual Community of Famous People."
But the patent, good for 20 years, was left undeveloped. Last year, he assigned the patent to his company, VS Technologies.
In 2006, California software engineer Jack Dorsey sent out his first "tweet." Twitter was born and has become an Internet phenomenon. Today there are about 200 million subscribers who can post messages of up to 140 characters.
Agarwal didn't pay much attention to Twitter until last year, when he learned that the company established a function on its website called "browse interests."
The lawsuit alleges that Twitter infringed on the patent by using some of the methods Agarwal developed. The browse interests feature "makes publicly available, interactive, virtual communities and profiles of people in various fields of endeavor," the lawsuit says.
Twitter has raised several defenses. Agarwal's patent should never have been granted because it is a "business method." Courts have ruled that business methods are not patentable, Twitter says in court filings.
Twitter also argues that similar services, such as "Who's Who Online," were already available on the Web and that its browse interests function is "fundamentally different" from what Agarwal invented.
The case is scheduled for trial Oct. 24, a little more than nine months after the suit was filed. Agarwal, however, must first overcome Twitter's motion to have the case thrown out. A hearing on that motion is set for Friday.
Patent cases are being filed in record numbers. More than 3,300 were filed nationwide in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2010. That's higher than any previous year going back to at least 1990, according to the federal judiciary."