In a June decision, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved a key issue in patent law: whether a party can be liable for patent infringement when there is no underlying act of direct infringement.  Specifically, the court addressed whether a party who instructs multiple parties to perform different steps of a method patent can be liable for inducing infringement.  The Court’s answer:  no. The case is Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies, Inc. (U.S. Supreme Court June 2, 2014) 2014 U.S. LEXIS 3817.

Patent infringement is either direct or indirect.  Direct infringement exists when a defendant makes, uses, sells, offers to sell, or imports into the United States a patented product or performs all of the steps of a patented method.  Indirect infringement exists when the defendant does not itself commit direct infringement, but causes another party to do so.  There are two types of indirect infringement: inducing and contributory.  A defendant has induced infringement when it instructs or causes another party to infringe a patent.  For a method patent, a defendant induces infringement if it instructs another party to perform all of the steps of the method.  The party who performs all of the steps is liable as a direct infringer, while the inducer is liable as an indirect infringer.  Contributory infringement, which is not relevant here, exists when a defendant sells or offers to sell a component that can only be used in infringing a patented invention.
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