Texas Trolled ’Em

Texas has made a name for itself recently as a haven for patent litigation, and a new report confirms that technology patent lawsuits are on the rise both statewide and nationally. More than 6,000 of those disputes were filed in the U.S. last year, mostly by so-called patent trolls—companies that exist solely to acquire patents and sue other businesses on broad claims of infringement, Ars Technica reports. The Eastern District of Texas, headquartered in Tyler, is on the frontline of these patent skirmishes: Plaintiffs filed 1,495 suits there in 2013, almost 25 percent of the national total and more than any other jurisdiction, according to the study published this week by the intellectual property consulting firm Lex Machina. 

The Bottom Line: Ars Technica notes that the Eastern District is also home to the busiest individual patent-litigation judge in the nation, U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap, who reviewed 941 patent cases in 2013.

A Pretty Penney

J.C. Penney’s stock shot up by more than twenty percent this week on the heels of a first-quarter earnings report that indicated the Plano-based retailer is finally showing signs of life. The Associated Press reports the company notched its second consecutive quarterly gain in same-store sales, which grew by 6.2 percent.

Analysts and company executives attribute the turnaround to a reversal of the department store’s retail strategy. As part of what the AP dubs a “botched transformation plan,” former CEO Ron Johnson did away with special sales promotions and put a larger emphasis on “trendy and pricy items [that] didn’t sit well with customers.” Sales soon plummeted, and Penney’s board replaced Johnson with current CEO Mike Ullman, whose primary objective has been to bring back the popular discounts and affordable products.

The Bottom Line: The report also had some not-as-great news: Despite the sales bump, Penney still lost $352 million in Q1, although that’s slightly less than Wall Street had projected, according to the AP. The company’s total revenue also outperformed analyst targets, reaching $2.8 billion.

Sun Thing to Talk About

San Francisco-based Recurrent Energy is moving forward with plans to build the largest solar farm in Texas by 2016, the company announced this week. Recurrent—a subsidiary of Japanese electronics manufacturer Sharp Corp.—is constructing the 150-megawatt facility in West Texas as part of a twenty-year agreement with Austin Energy, the Dallas Morning News reports. The utility hopes to incorporate at least 200 megawatts of solar energy into its grid by 2020, according to Businessweek.

The Bottom Line: Recurrent’s planned farm follows “a string of recent announcements of large-scale commercial solar” in West Texas, the DMN reports. Despite a lack of state subsidies for solar power, the region is becoming an increasingly appealing destination for renewable energy projects as the price of solar panels comes down. 

Winner of the Week: Baker Botts

A jury slapped Houston law firm Baker Botts with $40.5 million in damages in a legal malpractice case this week—but it immediately let the firm of the hook because the plaintiff filed the lawsuit a year too late, the Houston Chronicle reports. Axcess International, an Addison-based company that specializes in radio frequency identification technology, claims Baker Botts acted negligently by failing to disclose that it was also representing a competing company that made similar products.

Axcess sued the law firm in 2010 for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and material non-disclosure. But Baker Botts dodged the bullet by presenting evidence that the company became aware of the conflict in 2007—and Texas’ statute of limitations for negligence claims is just two years. Both sides intend to appeal, according to the Chronicle. 

Loser of the Week: Family Tree DNA

A class-action lawsuit filed in Alaska this week accuses a Houston genetic testing company of publishing customers’ DNA test results and personal information online without their consent. The lead plaintiff in the case claims that Family Tree DNA also collected and sold information associated with his home testing kit to at least one other company that specializes in genealogy research, Ars Technica reports. Family Tree could face up to $100,000 damages under Alaska’s Genetic Privacy Act. Twenty-seven U.S. states, including Texas, require companies to get explicit consent before disclosing a customer’s genetic information.