The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies, Inc. case on January 14, 2014 to determine whether the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals was correct in its decision that it no longer takes a single entity (actor) to induce all steps of a method claim.
Patent infringement can be established by direct infringement (35 U.S.C. §271(a)), by inducement (35 U.S.C. §271(b)), or contributorily (35 U.S.C. §271(c)). Up until August 2012, it was presumed that only a single entity could be liable for infringement by inducement (meaning that one party had to perform all the steps of a method claim in order for inducement to be established). But in August 2012, a divided full panel of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals decided the Akamai Technologies, Inc. v. Limelight Networks, Inc. case and determined that patent holders could establish induced infringement by showing that all elements of a method claim were performed in combination even though the elements were performed by separate entities.
In the Akamai case, the patent covered a method for efficient delivery of Web content. The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals decision was profound: patent attorneys no longer needed to draft claims in which a single actor/corporate entity induced each claim limitation and the patent infringement net could be cast a good deal wider to catch parties that didn’t believe there were (and previously weren’t) liable for infringement by inducement.
Limelight Networks appealed to the Supreme Court. Many third parties filed amicus (friends of the court) briefs. And most importantly, the Solicitor General weighed in that the Supreme Court should take this case because divided infringement presents substantial problems to statutory patent-law interpretation. Further, the Solicitor General posited that no party should be liable for inducing infringement if there is no direct infringement, and it is the Solicitor General’s position—and that of many amici briefs—that only a single entity can directly infringe.
So stay tuned. This will be a carefully watched case by both patent owners and general businesses. We will report later on the oral arguments (likely in April) and the Supreme Court decision when it comes out, projected to be at the end of June.