The statute seems clear enough. Section 271(b) of the Patent Act states, “Whoever actively induces infringement of a patent shall be liable as an infringer.”
But what does “actively induce” mean? Must a company know that its actions will cause another to infringe a patent? Or is a less culpable mental state—such as deliberate indifference—enough to create liability?
The Supreme Court held that in order for a defendant to induce patent infringement, the defendant must cause another to engage in behavior that the defendant knows is infringing. But the court ruled that a defendant cannot escape liability by intentionally avoiding the knowledge that the induced acts are infringing. Such willful blindness, the court noted, indicates a defendant is aware his actions are quite likely unlawful.
The case against Global-Tech was unusually strong, according to many experts. “This is a particularly unsympathetic defendant,” says Thomas Fitzpatrick, a partner at Goodwin Procter. “There’s no way to read what these guys did other than that they were willfully blind.”
The Global-Tech decision seems to benefit defendants by making it tougher to prove inducement.