By Kyle Pietari – Edited by Suzanne Van Arsdale
Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies, Inc., et al., No. 12-786 (U.S. June 2, 2014)
A unanimous Supreme Court reversed the en banc United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which had found that Limelight Networks, Inc. (“Limelight”) could be liable for inducing infringement of a method patent licensed to Akamai Technologies, Inc. (“Akamai”) by performing several of the method’s claimed steps, and then encouraging its customers to complete a final step.
The Supreme Court held that there can be no liability for induced infringement of a method patent under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b) unless direct infringement has occurred under § 271(a) or another statutory provision. Akamai, slip op. at 1. Under Federal Circuit case law, direct infringement liability under § 271(a) requires that a single party perform all steps of the claimed method. Muniauction, Inc. v. Thomson Corp., 532 F. 3d 1318, 1329. In Muniauction, the Federal Circuit clarified that this requirement is satisfied even if multiple parties perform the steps, so long as one defendant “exercises ‘control or direction’ over the entire process such that every step is attributable to the controlling party.” Id. Limelight argued and the Supreme Court agreed that, because Limelight did not control its customers’ performance of a step in the claimed method, but merely helped them independently perform that step, direct infringement never occurred under § 271(a). Akamai, slip op. at 2, 5–6. The Supreme Court further ruled that, absent direct infringement, there could be no inducement of infringement under § 271(b), and it rejected the Federal Circuit’s reasoning that induced infringement liability could be predicated on a direct infringement that occurred outside of any statutory provisions. Id. at 4–6.
Patent Docs provides a thorough summary of the case. IPcopy provides commentary about the case’s potential relevance for patent attorneys. PatentlyO analyzes the Federal Circuit’s motivations behind its decision, concluding that it has a “fundamental discomfort with strict liability.” (more…)