Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S.A., 131 S. Ct. 2060 (2011) (ALITO, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan) GlobalTech.05312011.ussc
MAJOR ISSUES: active inducement of infringement; Section 271(b); knowledge of patent; willful blindness as knowledge
COMMENTS: Section 271(b) imposes liability on those who actively induce infringement. The statute and its sister provision on contributory infringement, Section 271(c), impose liability for “indirect” infringement, that is, for acts of causing another to commit direct infringement by unauthorized making, selling, etc. As has long been recognized, the two statutes are ambiguous on what level of knowledge and intent an accused indirect infringer must have.
In Global Tech, the Supreme Court confirms that (1) there is a requirement that an indirect infringer have knowledge of the patent in question, (2) the knowledge requirement may be met by a showing of “willful blindness, but (3) the Federal Circuit erred by adopting a standard of “deliberate indifference to a known risk.
As discussed below, in Global-Tech, the Supreme Court did not address the difficult questions that arise when an accused inducer clearly knows of a patent, knows of the patent owner’s accusation of infringement, but believes that there is no infringement. For example, the accused inducer may rely on an opinion of counsel that the patent’s claims are invalid or that the infringement accusation is based on an unsupportably broad interpretation of the claims. As of June 2011, Federal Circuit and district court decisions do impose an “intent” requirement and have upheld findings of no liability when an accused inducer believed in good faith that there was no infringement. The issue may be reevaluated by the courts in the future.
CROSS REFERENCES: On active inducement, see Chisum on Patents § 17.04. For case law, see Chisum Patent Law Digest § 5115. Read CPLRG 0067