By Adam Mossoff
In Akamai v. Limelight, the Federal Circuit expanded its definition of what it means for someone to be directly liable for patent infringement when they direct or control other people’s actions. Through its proper judicial role in interpreting the meaning of the portion of the Patent Act defining direct infringement — Section 271(a) — the court has brought an end to machinating schemes that made possible unauthorized uses of patented innovation. In effect, some people figured out how to escape liability for infringement under past interpretations of Section 271(a) by merely directing multiple users of different aspects of a patented innovation. Akamai makes clear that this will no longer be tolerated under the Patent Act.
This case addressed technical legal questions about the interpretation of statutes and the differences between direct and indirect infringement of patents. Lawyers and scholars live for these issues, but it’s just as important for the commercial actors who are investing in and commercializing patented innovation in the marketplace. Akamai ultimately means that owners of patented innovation can now more easily sue people for direct infringement for these schemes, which are easier and less costly to do in our digital, networked world in the 21st century. At the end of the day, this brings greater security and certainty to property rights in innovation. This is a rare win for patented innovation at a time when patent rights are being scaled back by the courts, regulatory agencies and by Congress in many ways.