Supreme Court Rules That Knowledge Of Patent Is Required For Liability For Inducing Patent Infringement, But Willful Blindness Is Enough

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Under section 271(b) of the Patent Act, a defendant in a patent infringement lawsuit may be held liable for inducing the infringement of a patent, i.e., causing another person to directly infringe a patent. However the language of the statute is not clear as to what conduct or intent is required for one to be liable for inducing infringement. Section 271(b) simply provides: "Whoever actively induces infringement of a patent shall be liable as an infringer."

The U.S. Supreme Court recently grappled with the meaning of Section 271(b) in Global Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S.A., U.S., No. 10-6, 5-31-2011, acknowledging that the statutory language regarding induced infringement is ambiguous, and attempting to clarify the requirements for liability under this section.

In Global Tech, defendant was accused of inducing infringement of a patent for an innovative deep fryer owned by SEB S.A. Defendant had purchased an SEB fryer in Hong Kong (thus it lacked U.S. patent markings), copied all of the fryer's features except for cosmetics, retained an attorney to conduct a right-to-use study without telling the attorney that it had copied SEB's design, and ultimately sold its fryers to companies that then resold them in the United States. A jury found defendant liable for inducing infringement and the Federal Circuit affirmed, stating that one may be liable for induced infringement where he "knew or should have known that his actions would induce actual infringements." At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the standard applied for finding induced infringement (i.e., that defendant knew or should have known) was appropriate.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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