In referring to a party that "induces infringement," 35 U.S.C.S. § 271(b) may require merely that the inducer lead another to engage in conduct that happens to amount to infringement, i.e., the making, using, offering to sell, selling, or importing of a patented invention. 35 U.S.C.S. § 271(a). On the other hand, the reference to a party that "induces infringement" may also be read to mean that the inducer must persuade another to engage in conduct that the inducer knows is infringement. Both readings are possible.
A patent holder (respondent) settled a suit with a competitor. It then sued the competitor’s manufactures and designers, claiming that the petitioners induced the competitor to infringe on the patent. The trial court held for the patent holder. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari.
According to the language of the text, did the manufacturers induce the competitor to infringe on the patent?
Yes. The Court affirmed the lower courts’ rulings.
The Court held that the language of the statute, specifically the term “actively,” meant that the actor must take affirmative steps to bring about the desired result. It built its decision on previous interpretation of a different subsection of the statute, which required knowledge of the existence of infringement. Since the two subsections had a common origin, it would be inconsistent to hold that knowledge/notice was required of one and not the other. Thus, inducement required knowledge that the induced acts constituted patent infringement. Here, there was sufficient evidence to support knowledge under the doctrine of willful blindness. The petitioners (manufacturers) were aware that their customers were selling infringed products in the market. Thus, the court affirmed.