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Federal Circuit Panel Affirms Direct Infringement of a Method Claim Under Section 271(a) Does Not Include Joint Tortfeasor Liability

The Federal Circuit has issued a decision on remand from the US Supreme Court in Akamai v. Limelight, holding 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" and that “the statutory framework of 35 U.S.C. § 271 does not admit to the sweeping notions of common-law tort liability argued in this case.” The court, however, noted that the actions of multiple parties can result in direct infringement in a "principal-agent relationship, a contractual relationship or in circumstances in which parties work together in a joint enterprise functioning as a form of mutual agency."

Judge Moore argued in dissent that the majority opinion “divorces patent law from mainstream legal principles by refusing to accept that § 271(a) includes joint tortfeasor liability.” Judge Moore argued that “Limelight is liable under the direction or control test, because Limelight has performed a number of the steps of the patented methods, and it has directed its customers to perform the remaining steps,” and that “Limelight could also be held liable as a joint infringer, acting in concert with the customers pursuant to a common purpose, design or plan.”