The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has established a new test for “divided” patent infringement. Direct infringement of a method patent exists when a single party performs all of the steps of the claimed method. 35 U.S.C. §271(a). Divided infringement occurs when all of the steps are not performed by a single party, but by two or more parties under circumstances such that one party is still responsible for the infringement.
The law of divided infringement has been a subject of much debate. The question is: should direct infringement be expanded so that a single party is liable for infringement of a method claim even if another party performed some of the steps of the method? Those who say “no” argue that one party cannot infringe a method patent if it does not perform all of the steps of the claimed method, and that any other interpretation is so broad that it would make infringers out of innocent parties. Those who say “yes,” however, argue that infringers can escape liability for patent infringement simply by dividing up the steps of the claimed method among two or more parties.
In its previous decision in this case, a panel at the Federal Circuit had held that a party can be liable for divided infringement if it shares a principal-agent relationship, a contract, or a joint enterprise with the other party who performs some of the steps. On appeal to the United States Supreme Court, however, the Supreme Court vacated that decision and remanded the case to the Federal Circuit, stating that the Federal Circuit’s test for divided infringement may have been too narrow.Continue Reading Divided Infringement: A Stronger Sword for Plaintiffs