By Dennis Crouch
Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies, Inc., Docket Nos. 12-786 and 12-960 (Supreme Court 2013)
Limelight and Akamai have proposed dueling questions to the Supreme Court. Limelight, the accused infringer, asks: "Whether the Federal Circuit erred in holding that a defendant may be held liable for inducing patent infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b) even though no one has committed direct infringement under § 271(a)." The patentees Akamai and MIT ask: "Whether a party may be liable for infringement under either section of the patent infringement statute, 35 U.S.C. §271(a) or § 271(b), where two or more entities join together to perform all of the steps of a process claim." These questions involving the fundamental definitions of patent infringement have been stewing for a number of years, and this case stems directly from the Federal Circuit's fractured en banc decision in 2012.
The Supreme Court today has indicated some interest in the case by calling for the views of the US Solicitor General. The Supreme Court may see the case as an extension of its decision in Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB, S.A, 2011 U.S. LEXIS 4022 (U.S. May 31, 2011). That case focused on the intent requirements infringement-by-inducement.
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The asserted claim from U.S. Patent No. 6,108,703 is below:
19. A content delivery service, comprising:
replicating a set of page objects across a wide area network of content servers managed by a domain other than a content provider domain;
for a given page normally served from the content provider domain, tagging the embedded objects of the page so that requests for the page objects resolve to the domain instead of the content provider domain;
responsive to a request for the given page received at the content provider domain, serving the given page from the content provider domain; and
serving at least one embedded object of the given page from a given content server in the domain instead of from the content provider domain.
Apparently in practice, the "tagging" step is performed by Limelight's customers and limelight therefore argues that there cannot be infringement because no single entity practices each and every step of the claimed invention.
Thus, the basic setup is that Limelight performs all-but-one of the elements of the claimed invention and then encourages its customers to perform the missing stem. Limelight wins this case with a holding of non-infringement under the BMC/MuniAuction line of cases because infringement under 271(a) requires a single entity that causes performance of each and every element of the claimed invention and since Limelight did not cause its customers to perform the missing step. Likewise, under those cases inducement under 271(b) fails because the cause-of-action requires proof of underlying direct (271(a)) infringement. On the other hand Akamai argues that the BMC/MuniAuction rules are too restrictive. Rather, Akamai argues that the single-entity requirement of 271(a) direct infringement is too narrow and that inducement under 271(b) should not require underlying direct infringement. For its part, the Federal Circuit took a somewhat middle-ground and only held that inducement does not require underlying direct infringement so long as a single entity induced all of claimed elements.