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Abstract

The Supreme Court over the last decade or so has reengaged with patent law. While much attention has been paid to the Court’s reworking of what constitutes patent-eligible subject matter and enhancing tools to combat “patent trolls,” what many have missed is the Court’s reworking of the contours of active inducement of patent infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b). The Court has taken the same number of § 271(b) cases as subject matter eligibility cases—four. Yet this reworking has not garnered much attention in the literature. This Article offers the first comprehensive assessment of the Court’s efforts to define active inducement. In so doing, it identifies the surprising significance of the Court’s most recent case, Commil USA, LLC v. Cisco Systems, Inc., where the Court held that a good faith belief on the part of the accused inducer that the relevant patent is invalid cannot negate the mental state required for inducement—the intent to induce acts of infringement. In so doing, the Court moved away from its policy of encouraging challenges to patent validity as articulated in Lear, Inc. v. Adkins and its progeny. This step away from Lear is significant and surprising, particularly where critiques of the patent system suggest there are too many invalid patents creating issues for competition. This Article critiques these aspects of Commil and then addresses lingering, unanswered questions. In particular, this Article suggests that a good faith belief that the induced acts are not infringing, which remains as a defense, should only act as a shield against past damages and not against prospective relief such as injunctions or ongoing royalties. The courts so far have failed to appreciate this important temporal dynamic.

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