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Hon. Rodney Gilstrap

USDC Eastern District of Texas

James Rodney Gilstrap (born May 1, 1957) is the Chief United States district judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. He is notable for presiding over more than one quarter of all patent infringement cases filed in the nation and is often referred to by various sources as the country’s single “busiest patent judge.”

Education and Career

Gilstrap was born in Pensacola, Florida. He is an Eagle Scout. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Baylor University in 1978, where he graduated magna cum laude. As an undergraduate he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He also earned a Juris Doctor from Baylor Law School in 1981.

After graduation from law school, Gilstrap entered private practice in the town of Marshall, Texas as an Associate with the firm of Abney, Baldwin & Searcy from 1981 to 1984. He later became a founding Partner of Smith & Gilstrap in Marshall from 1984 to 1989, where his practice covered oil and gas, real estate, probate law and occasionally patent cases.

Gilstrap served as a Harrison County Judge from 1989 to 2002. Gilstrap also served 16 years on the Courthouse Preservation Council in Marshall, and also served as the Chair of the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee with the State Bar of Texas.

While and after serving as a Harrison County Judge, Gilstrap was practicing at Smith & Gilstrap until he became appointed to the federal bench in 2011.

Federal Judicial Service

On May 19, 2011, President Barack Obama nominated Gilstrap to a seat on United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Gilstrap was rated as Unanimously Qualified by the American Bar Association. He received his commission on December 6, 2011. He became the chief judge on March 1, 2018, after Ron Clark assumed senior status.

Notable Cases

  • In 2015, Gilstrap ruled that a $533 million jury verdict (the largest ever for a patent assertion entity, Smartflash) in Smartflash, Inc. v. Apple be thrown out due to a faulty jury instruction, and ordered a new trial solely on the issue of damages.
  • Also in 2015, Gilstrap denied a request by ZTE Corporation for a new trial after a jury found that it infringed two patents owned by DataQuill covering data entry technology and awarded DataQuill $31.5 million.
  • In February 2020, Gilstrap determined that tobacco manufacturer R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company must continue making its full portion of an $8 billion dollar annual payment to the State of Texas pursuant to a 1998 Settlement Agreement.[37] In 1996, Texas brought historic litigation against all major tobacco manufacturers, including Reynolds, asserting that their products injured both Texas citizens and Texas itself, which had to expend money on healthcare for citizens who suffer from tobacco-related illnesses.