Cardiac Pacemakers v. St. Jude Medical (On motion for en banc rehearing)
35 U.S.C. § 271 defines various types of patent infringement including direct infringement and contributory infringement. Section 271(f) details a special cause of action that captures some transnational activities. In particular, Section 271(f) creates a cause of action for supplying components of a patented invention to be assembled abroad.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled on a 271(f) case -- finding that software per se cannot be considered a "component" under the statute. Microsoft v AT&T, 550 U.S. 437 (2007). In December 2008, the Federal Circuit decided Cardiac Pacemaker and held that the Microsoft v. AT&T did not overrule a prior precedential ruling that Section 271(f) does extend to cover components of a claimed method. “[T]he Supreme Court’s decision does not alter [the] holding” that “271(f) applies to components used in the performance of patented methods and processes.” The precedent in question is Union Carbide v. Shell. Although the Federal Circuit denied a request to rehear the Union Carbide case, Judges Lourie, Michel, and Linn, argued then that the issue was ready for en banc review. Judge Dyk also dissent from the en banc denial in Union Carbide.
In their decision, the panel (Judges Newman, Mayer, & Lourie) practically begged for en banc rehearing: "As a panel, we cannot reverse the holding of another panel of this court. We thus affirm the district court’s decisions relating to damages." [Link] Of course, Judge Mayer signed-on to Judge Rader's original Union Carbide opinion.
Now, the defendant (St. Jude) has asked for a rehearing en banc. If unsuccessful, we can expect a petition for a writ of certiorari. The FCBA and AIPLA joined forces in an amicus brief supporting the rehearing en banc and for a reversal of the Union Carbide analysis. Writing on behalf of Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, and Symantec, Ed Reines also argues that the rule should be overturned. The tech companies argue in particular that the limit on exports creates major adverse economic incentives.
"A very common business arrangement is for United States companies to export instructions, materials, recipes, and other knowledge-exports to Asian and other off-shore locations where manufacturing processes takes place. An overbroad extraterritorial interpretation of § 271(f) to apply to process patents creates potential worldwide liability for companies based in the United States that export anything that can properly be considered a process step. Yet, if their competitors exist outside the United States, they are not exposed to liability for United States patent infringement for supporting foreign manufacturing processes."
A good handful of judges have at least loosely indicated that they would support an en banc rehearing -- making this a very likely candidate.