Supreme Court's Definition of Active Inducement in Patent Infringement

Supreme Court's Definition of Active Inducement in Patent Infringement

The Supreme Court's decision in Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB, S.A, 2011 U.S. LEXIS 4022 (U.S. May 31, 2011) [enhanced version available to subscribers / unenhanced version available from lexisONE Free Case Law] clarifies the mental state necessary for a defendant to be liable for "actively inducing" patent infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b). In this Analysis, Mary LaFrance examines the implications of this opinion. She writes:

     As a threshold matter, the Court held that active inducement under § 271(b) requires intent. While § 271(b) does not mention intent, the verb "induce" and the adverb "actively" both imply intent to bring about a certain result. The more difficult question was whether the inducing party must intend to bring about every aspect of the particular result. To clarify this issue, the Court analogized to a salesman who induces a customer to purchase a car. If the car happens to be damaged, it can be said that the salesman induced the customer to buy a damaged car. Does this mean that the salesman knew that the car was damaged, and intended the customer to buy it in that condition? Or does it mean only that the salesman simply intended the customer to buy the car, and was unaware that it was damaged? Similarly, § 271(b) could be interpreted in two ways: It could make a defendant liable for inducing someone to make, sell, use or import a product, without the inducer necessarily knowing that the product is patented. Or it could impose liability only when the inducing party knows that these activities will be infringing.

     Because the language of § 271(b) does not resolve this ambiguity, the Court considered the legislative history of the patent infringement provisions, both before and after the Patent Act of 1952.


     Because § 271(b) and § 271(c) "share a common origin" in the pre-1952 case law, the majority in Global-Tech concluded that "it would be strange to hold that knowledge of the relevant patent is needed under § 271(c) but not under § 271(b)." Accordingly, the Court held that induced infringement under § 271(b) requires knowledge "that the induced acts constitute patent infringement."

     However, the Court squarely rejected the Federal Circuit's conclusion that the knowledge requirement of § 271(b) was satisfied by proof of "deliberate indifference to a known risk that a patent exists."

(citations omitted)

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