Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S.A. (Supreme Court 2010)
The Supreme Court has granted writ of certiorari in the case of Global-Tech v. SEB to decide the level of intent required for inducing infringement. The question raised is: Whether the legal standard for the "state of mind" element of a claim for actively inducing infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b) is "deliberate indifference of a known risk" that an infringement may occur or instead "purposeful, culpable expression and conduct" to encourage an infringement.
Section 271(b) of the patent act creates a cause of action against inducing infringement. The statute reads "Whoever actively induces infringement of a patent shall be liable as an infringer." Courts have struggled for years to define the level of intent that is sufficient to satisfy the rough statutory guidelines.
In DSU Medical Corp. v. JMS Co., Ltd., 471 F.3d 1293 (Fed. Cir. 2006) (en banc), the Federal Circuit held that inducement charges could only be sustained if the accused inducer "knew of the patent." In SEB (T-Fal) v. Montgomery Ward & Co., 594 F.3d 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2010), the Federal Circuit eased-back on that requirement by holding that "deliberate indifference" to potential patent rights could be sufficient to satisfy the knowledge requirement of inducement charges. Thus, Judge Rader wrote in SEB that "a claim for inducement is viable even where the patentee has not produced direct evidence that the accused infringer actually knew of the patent-in-suit."
In the case, Judge Rader distinguished between the subjective determination of "deliberate indifference" and an objective "should-have-known" standard. An interesting aspect of the Federal Circuit decision is the court's use of non-patent and non-Federal Circuit cases to aid its interpretation of the law. Specifically, the decision relies on three cases that are decidedly non-patent: Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994); United States v. Carani, 492 F.3d 867, 873 (7th Cir. 2007); and Woodman v. WWOR-TV, Inc., 411 F.3d 69 (2d Cir. 2005).
Farmer v. Brennan involved the question of whether an incarcerated pre-operative transsexual who projects female characteristics could be held in a men-only prison. The Supreme Court there held that a prison official could be liable for "deliberate indifference" to inmate safety. US v. Carani involved an appeal of a child pornography conviction and the Seventh Circuit ruled that the defendant's knowledge of the child-status of the pornography was satisfied by the defendant's deliberate avoidance of or indifference to the truth. Woodman v. WWOR-TV involved an age discrimination charge against FOX and noted that knowledge of a fact may be proven through evidence that the party "consciously avoided knowledge of what would otherwise have been obvious him."
The cases cited above are not found in the appellate briefs. Rather, the SEB court's concept of "deliberate indifference" was raised sua sponte by the Federal Circuit.
The petition for certiorari was aided by a short but compelling brief by the legal academics led by Professor Lemley (Stanford) and Holbrook (Emory) and also signed by conservatives such as Richard Epstein (Chicago). The brief basically argued that the Federal Circuit has been unable to clarify its own law on the state of mind requirement for inducement liability. The brief also suggest that the Federal Circuit SEB decision conflicts with the Supreme Court's precedent in MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., 545 U.S. 913, 936 (2005).
- Patently-O Discussion of Original Federal Circuit Opinion.
- Broadening Federal Circuit Jurisprudence: Moving Beyond Federal Circuit Patent Cases, 2010 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 19 (2010).