The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 8-1 Tuesday in Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB, SA [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that induced patent infringement requires knowledge that the induced acts constitute patent infringement. Under 35 USC § 271(b) [text], a patent owner may bring suit against an individual "who actively induces infringement of a patent." The petitioners stood accused of inducing infringement of a patented deep fryer produced by SEB. The trial court allowed the issue to go to the jury, denying petitioners' motion to dismiss at the conclusion of the presentation of evidence, even though petitioners had no knowledge of SEB's patent. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed, using the "deliberate indifference to a known risk" standard. In a majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, the court rejected the "deliberate indifference" standard, but nonetheless affirmed the judgment below:
[W]e agree that deliberate indifference to a known risk that a patent exists is not the appropriate standard under §271(b). We nevertheless affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals because the evidence in this case was plainly sufficient to support a finding of Pentalpha’s knowledge under the doctrine of willful blindness.Justice Anthony Kennedy filed a dissenting opinion.
SEB owns a patent for a deep fryer. In 1997, Pentalpha, a subsidiary of Global-Tech Appliances, developed and manufactured a deep fryer that copied features of SEB's deep fryer. In 1999, SEB sued Global-Tech for patent infringement in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. The jury found Global-Tech liable for direct and active inducement of patent infringement, and Global-Tech appealed.