02 June 2014

Law in Plain English: Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies, Inc.

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogLimelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies, Inc.

Argument: Apr 30 2014 (Aud.)

Background: Akamai Technologies, Inc., owns a patent that covers a method for efficient delivery of web content. The claimed method consists of placing some of a content provider's content elements on a set of replicated servers and modifying the content provider's web page to instruct web browsers to retrieve that content from those servers. Akamai filed a complaint against Limelight Networks, Inc., alleging infringement of the patent. In its complaint, Akamai alleged both direct and induced infringement. Limelight maintains a network of servers and, as in the patented method, it allows for efficient content delivery by placing some content elements on its servers. Limelight, however, does not modify the content providers' web pages itself. Instead, Limelight instructs its customers on the steps needed to do that modification. The district court held that Limelight did not infringe the patents asserted against them because Limelight's customers (and not Limelight itself) performed one of the steps of the claimed method. The Federal Circuit reversed, finding that Limelight could be liable for induced infringement if Akamai had performed some of the steps of a claimed method and has induced other parties to commit the remaining steps (divided infringement).

Issue: The question before the Court is 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 Section 271(a).

Holding: In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a defendant is not liable for inducing infringement when no one has directly infringed under Section 271(a) or any other statute. Liability for infringement must be predicated on direct infringement. As a result, the decision of the Federal Circuit was reversed.
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