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Recently, the Federal Circuit, for a second time this year, evaluated infringement of a method claim. The Court, vacating the recent panel decision in May, outlined the governing framework for direct infringement of a method claim. It held that direct infringement occurs “where all steps of a claimed method are performed by or attributable to a single entity.” This holding is significant because proving direct infringement of a method claim where steps of the method are performed by more than one party no longer requires the parties to be in principal-agent or contractual relationships, or joint enterprise, as demanded by the vacated panel decision.
On May 13, 2015, the Federal Circuit issued the much-anticipated decision in Akamai Technologies, Inc. v. Limelight Networks, Inc. following a remand from the Supreme Court. The Federal Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, held that “direct infringement liability of a method claim under 35 U.S.C. § 271(a) exists when all of the steps of the claim are performed by or attributed to a single entity[.]” This is consistent with its 2008 Muniauction decision, where the Federal Circuit first made clear that “direct infringement requires a single party to perform every step of a claimed method.” The Akamai Court concluded that when “one party, acting as ‘mastermind’ exercises sufficient ‘direction or control’ over the actions of another,” the “single entity” requirement may be met and the direct infringement may be found. Sufficient direction or control may occur in a principal-agent relationship, a contractual arrangement, or a joint enterprise.
In a continuing a pattern that has seemingly developed over the past several years, the Supreme Court recently overturned two more Federal Circuit decisions relating to key aspects of patent law.