Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Techs, Inc.
572 U.S. ___ (2014)

Annotate this Case
Justia Opinion Summary

Akamai is the exclusive licensee of a patent that claims a method of delivering electronic data using a content delivery network (CDN). Limelight also operates a CDN and carries out several of the steps claimed in the patent, but its customers, rather than Limelight itself, perform a step of the patent known as “tagging.” Under Federal Circuit case law, liability for direct infringement under 35 U.S.C. 271(a) requires performance of all steps of a method patent to be attributable to a single party. The district court concluded that Limelight could not have directly infringed the patent at issue because performance of the tagging step could not be attributed to it. The en banc Federal Circuit reversed, holding that a defendant who performed some steps of a method patent and encouraged others to perform the rest could be liable for inducement of infringement even if no one was liable for direct infringement. The Supreme Court reversed. A defendant is not liable for inducing infringement under section 271(b) when no one has directly infringed. The Federal Circuit’s contrary view would deprive section 271(b) of ascertainable standards and require the courts to develop parallel bodies of infringement law. Citing section 271(f), the Court stated that Congress knows how to impose inducement liability predicated on noninfringing conduct when it wishes to do so. Though a would-be infringer could evade liability by dividing performance of a method patent’s steps with another whose conduct cannot be attributed to the defendant, a desire to avoid this consequence does not justify fundamentally altering the rules of inducement liability clearly required by the Patent Act’s text and structure.

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

LIMELIGHT NETWORKS, INC. v. AKAMAI TECHNOLOGIES, INC., et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the federal circuit

No. 12–786. Argued April 30, 2014—Decided June 2, 2014

Akamai Technologies, Inc., a respondent here, is the exclusive licensee of a patent that claims a method of delivering electronic data using a content delivery network (CDN). Petitioner, Limelight Networks, Inc., also operates a CDN and carries out several of the steps claimed in the patent, but its customers, rather than Limelight itself, perform a step of the patent known as “tagging.” Under Federal Circuit case law, liability for direct infringement under 35 U. S. C. §271(a) requires performance of all steps of a method patent to be attributable to a single party. This position was most recently refined in Muniauction, Inc. v. Thomson Corp., 532 F. 3d 1318. The District Court concluded that Limelight could not have directly infringed the patent at issue because performance of the tagging step could not be attributed to it. The en banc Federal Circuit reversed, holding that a defendant who performed some steps of a method patent and encouraged others to perform the rest could be liable for inducement of infringement even if no one was liable for direct infringement. The en banc court concluded that the evidence could support liability for Limelight on an inducement theory and remanded for further proceedings.

Held: A defendant is not liable for inducing infringement under §271(b) when no one has directly infringed under §271(a) or any other statutory provision. Pp. 4–11.

     (a) Liability for inducement must be predicated on direct infringement. Aro Mfg. Co. v. Convertible Top Replacement Co., 365 U. S. 336 . Assuming that Muniauction’s holding is correct, respondents’ method has not been infringed because the performance of all of its steps is not attributable to any one person. Since direct infringe-ment has not occurred, there can be no inducement of infringement under §271(b). The Federal Circuit’s contrary view would deprive §271(b) of ascertainable standards and require the courts to develop two parallel bodies of infringement law. This Court’s reading of §271(b) is reinforced by §271(f)(1), which illustrates that Congress knows how to impose inducement liability predicated on non-infringing conduct when it wishes to do so. The notion that conduct which would be infringing in altered circumstances can form the basis for contributory infringement has been rejected, see Deepsouth Packing Co. v. Laitram Corp., 406 U. S. 518 –527, and there is no reason to apply a different rule for inducement. Pp. 4–7.

     (b) Respondents claim that principles from tort law and criminal aiding and abetting doctrine, as well as patent law principles in existence before the 1952 Patent Act, support the Federal Circuit’s reading of the statute, but their arguments are unpersuasive. Though a would-be infringer could evade liability by dividing performance of a method patent’s steps with another whose conduct cannot be attributed to the defendant, this is merely a result of the Federal Circuit’s interpretation of §271(a), and a desire to avoid this consequence does not justify fundamentally altering the rules of inducement liability clearly required by the Patent Act’s text and structure. Pp. 8–10.

     (c) Because the question presented here is clearly focused on §271(b) and presupposes that Limelight has not committed direct infringement under §271(a), the Court declines to address whether the Federal Circuit’s decision in Muniauction is correct. P. 10.

692 F. 3d 1301, reversed and remanded.

     Alito, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Primary Holding
A defendant cannot be not liable for inducing infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b) when no single party has directly infringed on the patent.

Disclaimer: Justia Annotations is a forum for attorneys to summarize, comment on, and analyze case law published on our site. Justia makes no guarantees or warranties that the annotations are accurate or reflect the current state of law, and no annotation is intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Contacting Justia or any attorney through this site, via web form, email, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.