By Dennis Crouch
This post discusses Professor Holbrook's new essay on the extraterritorial consequences of the recent Akamai decision.
In Akamai v. Limelight, an en banc Federal Circuit (CAFC) expanded the scope of liability for actively inducing patent infringement (inducement). Under the old rule, an active inducement charge required proof that an induced third party actually practiced the patented method. Akamai loosened that constraint a bit. Under the new rule, actively inducing infringement of a patented method no longer requires underlying infringement by the third party. The court replaced that element with a requirement of proof that each step of the patented method be performed. Thus, the difference between the old and the new is that active inducement no longer follows the single infringing actor rule that is *still* applied in the context of direct infringement. Under the new rule, a defendant could be held liable for active inducement even when it took three different actors to collectively perform the patented-steps. The statutory basis for active inducement is 35 U.S.C. §271(b) ("Whoever actively induces infringement of a patent shall be liable as an infringer."). At least as interpreted, the statute does not provide any help in understanding which of these two interpretations (old & new) are correct.
Akamai raises a host of further more detailed question about application of the newly revised doctrine.
In his most recent essay, Professor Timothy Holbrook (Emory) focuses on one of his specialties – international application of the patent laws – and considers how the new law of inducement applies in the international and trans-border patent infringement context.
The crux of Holbrook's essay begins with the statutory definition of direct patent infringement that uses the phrase "within the United States" as a territorial limitation on patent infringement actions. 35 U.S.C. § 271(a). The old rule of active inducement was linked to this definition and thus included an implicit territorial limitation as well. In Akamai, the court decoupled active inducement from the direct infringement definition of 271(a) and challenges whether (and how) a territorial limitation will be applied moving forward.
One suggestion is that the Federal Circuit should rely upon its control-and-beneficial use doctrine developed in NTP v. Research-in-Motion, 418 F.3d 1282 (Fed. Cir. 2005), to determine whether the territorial limits of the patent laws bar an inducement action. However, NTP is a deeply unsatisfying opinion and has little basis in the law, and such an extension of that opinion would have even less basis in law. Holbrook suggests that when portions of the induced activity occurs in another country, the court should focus on whether the patentee bringing the infringement action has a parallel patent in that other country. If so, then the inducement action can move forward. On the other hand, the absence of such parallel patents suggest that the trans-border inducement action unduly extends US law. Holbrook writes:
The baseline principle would be as follows: if there would not be infringement of the patent in the foreign country, then there would be no infringement of the United States. As I have advocated elsewhere, this approach takes into account potential conflicts with foreign law, which is one of the justifications for the presumption against extraterritoriality.
I should note that Holbrook has offered his solution more broadly as a replacement for the NTP test.
For patentees, the interesting result of Professor Holbrook's approach is that provides an additional incentive for patentees obtain foreign patent protection because that protection bolsters their US patent rights. In this sense, it gives an edge to non-US innovators who are already much more likely to obtain foreign rights than are US based entities. The approach also offers a straightforward avenue for someone to receive the benefit of practicing the invention without paying royalties and without infringement liability. The approach would be to identify countries where the patent is not protected and induce performance of some steps of the method there. However, in most cases that approach is likely too far-fetched for most situations.
Read the essay: Timothy Holbrook, The Potential Extraterritorial Consequences of Akamai, forthcoming in the Emory International Law Review (2012) online at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2154277.