Akamai Techs. v. Limelight Networks: An Expansion of the Scope of Patent Direct Infringement

Tianxiang (“Max”) Zhou, MJLST Staffer

This August the Federal Circuit Court delivered an en banc opinion of Akamai Techs. v. Limelight Networks, affirming the jury decision awarding $40 million in damages. The per curium opinion provided that the Court “unanimously set forth the law of divided infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(a)” and there was substantial evidence “support[ing] the jury’s finding that Limelight directly infringed U.S. Patent No. 6,108,703.” Accordingly, the Federal Circuit reversed the District Court’s grant of Limelight’s motion for judgment of non-infringement as a matter of law.

The issue in this case is whether Limelight should be liable for direct infringement of the patent by inducing consumers to infringe the patent and should thus be jointly and directly liable under 35 U.S.C. §271(a). The Supreme Court held that induced infringement under §271(b) requires a single direct infringer. According to the Supreme Court, Limelight should not be liable as the it only performed some but not all of the infringement steps.

The Federal Circuit expanded the scope of direct infringement and held Limelight liable. The Federal Circuit held that Direct infringement under §271(a) occurs where “all steps of a claimed method are performed by or attributable to a single entity.” According to the Federal Circuit, when there are two or more actors from a joint enterprise, all can be charged with the acts of the other, “rendering each liable for the steps performed by the other as if each is a single actor.” The Court further cited the definition of joint enterprise in Restatement (Second) of Torts and provided four factors in determining whether there is joint enterprise.

The case is important because it set forth the rule that the actors in a joint enterprise can be liable for the other actors. The case prevented a possible way to dodge the direct infringement liability by inducing the consumers to perform some of actions of infringement.

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