Supreme Court to Rule on “Divided” Patent Infringement

The US Supreme Court has agreed resolve a dispute between Limelight Networks Inc. and Akamai Technologies over a patent for delivering Internet content.

Akamai holds a patent for a method to redirect Internet content when demand is high.  The company claims that defendant Limelight performs all but one step described in the patent and then induces its customers to perform the last step.

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which focuses on patent cases, ruled in 2012 that Limelight could be sued for inducing patent infringement.  The court overruled earlier decisions that induced infringement required a showing that a single entity performed all the steps constituting infringement of a method claim – the so-called “single entity rule.”

The court said that the “bizarre result” of the single entity rule was that a party inducing infringement could avoid liability by performing some of the claimed method steps itself.  The court found that it was sufficient if the inducer caused, urged, encouraged, or aided the infringing conduct of others.

Under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b), “[w]hoever actively induces infringement of a patent shall be liable as an infringer.”

The court held that Limelight could be liable for inducing patent infringement if the patent holder could show that:

Limelight knew of Akamai’s patent, (2) it performed all but one of the steps of the method claimed in the patent, (3) it induced the content providers to perform the final step of the claimed method, and (4) the content providers in fact performed that final step.

Google, Cisco, Oracle, and others are supporting Limelight, saying that products like smartphones “can be used in an almost infinite combination of ways by other companies and consumers.”

The US Solicitor General urged the Supreme Court to take the case, “to avert a significant expansion of the scope of inducement liability (and a corresponding increase in burdensome litigation).”

Stay up-to-date on the latest Intellectual Property Law news from Sheldon Mak & Anderson.

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