The Texas law firm worked on nearly two dozen patent cases filed against Apple last year, all in the Western District of Texas, according to Bloomberg Law data. That accounts for more than half of all patent cases filed against the iPhone maker in that district in 2021.
While Kelly Hart isn’t working most of the cases alone—the firm is often paired with national powerhouses like Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Morrison & Foerster LLP, or Fish & Richardson PC—it has logged more appearances for Apple in patent cases in the past 12 months than any other law firm.
The analysis focused on 53 tech companies that were listed in the S&P 500 in both 2020 and 2021. The data on outside firm appearances comes from Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Analyzer, which tracks company cases by measures such as the law firms involved and the types of cases worked on.
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Most of the cases against Apple were brought by patent-owning companies who allege Apple devices, like the iPhone, infringe patented technology related to things like battery conservation or voice-enabled internet searches.
Patent Work Booming
Kelly Hart partner J. Stephen Ravel has been the driving force, appearing in each case.
Based in the firm’s Austin office, Ravel has deep federal litigation experience in corporate work, including contract and bankruptcy, according to court records. His—and in turn Kelly Hart’s—patent work has expanded since Judge Alan Albright took the bench in 2018.
Albright has turned the Western District of Texas into a magnet for patent litigation, with more than 970 new cases filed there in 2021, about a quarter of all patent suits in the U.S. By comparison, in 2017 there were about 70 patent suits filed in the district.
Albright sits in the Western District’s Waco division.
During the decade before Albright’s appointment, Kelly Hart averaged fewer than five appearances a year in patent cases, according to Bloomberg Law data. Those numbers jumped to 26 and 21 cases in 2019 and 2020, Albright’s first full years on the bench.
Last year, Kelly Hart did work in 44 new patent cases, the vast majority of which were in the Western District of Texas. Other companies it has done work for in addition to Apple include
Kelly Hart is also doing work for
Ravel is part of a working group Albright has organized to help the judge draft rules for patent case procedure. He and his firm didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Unlike some places, such as Delaware, companies aren’t required to have local counsel in Waco, although Albright recommends it. Speaking during a recent conference, Albright said there’s benefit in having local counsel that is familiar with his rules and preferences.
“That is invaluable—the person who can tell you what would really not work with me and what really would work with me, who can advise you what issues they would raise in a discovery hearing and what issues they wouldn’t, and all that stuff,” Albright said.
That isn’t lost on companies like Apple that constantly find themselves in Waco, according to Jonas Anderson, a professor at the American University Washington College of Law. Anderson said those companies are drawn to people familiar with Judge Albright and his practices.
“Thus, Apple (and others) are inherently more likely to hire attorneys that are local, to complement their army of in-house and outside attorneys,” Anderson wrote in an email.
Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Gillam & Smith LLP is another Texas firm that logged numerous appearances in cases involving S&P 500 tech companies in 2021. Based in Marshall, Texas, the bulk of Gillam & Smith’s work was in the neighboring Eastern District of Texas, although it did handle over 50 cases filed in the Western District of Texas in 2021, Bloomberg Law data shows.
Competition for cases in Waco could increase. Anderson noted Winston & Strawn LLP, for example, has started renting space in Waco. The firm also recently announced it was adding to its roster the founders of the Austin-based IP and technology firm Shelton Coburn, touting the move as strengthening the firm’s coverage of Waco.
Meanwhile, Albright last year selected Texas litigator Derek Gilliland to fill a new magistrate judge’s role in Waco. Gilliland has experience in patent lawsuits, having overseen the IP litigation practice at Sorey & Gilliland LLP.
“If Albright can keep the cases flowing (and increase capacity, by being granted another judge who has the same approach to patent law) more firms will relocate permanently to Waco,” Anderson wrote.