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Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S.A.

Supreme Court of the United States

February 23, 2011, Argued; May 31, 2011, Decided

No. 10-6

Opinion

 [*757]  Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court.

We consider whether a party who “actively induces infringement of a patent” under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b) must know that  [****7] the induced acts constitute patent infringement.

This case concerns a patent for an innovative deep fryer designed by respondent SEB S. A., a French maker of home appliances. In the late 1980's, SEB invented a “cool-touch” deep fryer, that is, a deep fryer for home use with external surfaces that remain cool during the frying process. The cool-touch deep fryer consisted of a metal frying pot surrounded by a plastic [**2064]  outer housing. Attached to the housing was a ring that suspended the metal pot and insulated the housing from heat by separating it from the pot, creating air space between the two components. SEB obtained a U. S. patent for its design in 1991, and sometime later, SEB  [*758]  started manufacturing the cool-touch fryer and selling it in this country under its well-known “T-Fal” brand. Superior to other products in the American market at the time, SEB's fryer was a commercial success.

In 1997, Sunbeam Products, Inc., a U. S. competitor of SEB, asked petitioner Pentalpha Enterprises, Ltd., to supply it with deep fryers meeting certain specifications. Pentalpha is a Hong Kong maker of home appliances and a  [1668]  wholly owned subsidiary of petitioner Global-Tech Appliances, Inc.1

In order to develop a deep fryer for Sunbeam, Pentalpha purchased an SEB fryer in Hong Kong and copied all but its cosmetic features. Because the SEB fryer bought in Hong Kong was made for sale in a foreign market, it bore no U. S. patent markings. After copying SEB's design, Pentalpha retained an attorney to conduct a right-to-use study, but Pentalpha refrained from telling the attorney that its design was copied directly from SEB's.

The attorney failed to locate SEB's patent, and in August 1997 he issued an opinion letter stating that Pentalpha's deep fryer did not infringe any of the patents that he had found. That same month, Pentalpha started selling its deep fryers to Sunbeam, which resold them in the United States under its trademarks. By obtaining its product from a manufacturer with lower production costs, Sunbeam was able to undercut SEB in the U. S. market.

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563 U.S. 754 *; 131 S. Ct. 2060 **; 179 L. Ed. 2d 1167 ***; 2011 U.S. LEXIS 4022 ****; 98 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1665; 79 U.S.L.W. 4400; 22 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 1062

GLOBAL-TECH APPLIANCES, INC., et al., Petitioners v. SEB S. A.

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FEDERAL CIRCUIT.

SEB S.A. v. Montgomery Ward & Co., 594 F.3d 1360, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 2454 (Fed. Cir., 2010)

Disposition: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS

infringement, patent, blindness, induced, willful, fryer, contributory, cases, patent infringement, actual knowledge, deliberate, willfully, culpable, selling, deep fryer, salesman, copied, invention, customer, court of appeals, high probability, criminal law, happens, deep

Business & Corporate Compliance, Infringement Actions, Infringing Acts, Indirect Infringement, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Patent Law, Intent & Knowledge, Criminal Law & Procedure, Acts & Mental States, Mens Rea, Knowledge, Negligence, Recklessness