Supreme Court Continues To Issue Significant Patent Rulings

Continuing its hands-on approach in patent cases, the Supreme Court issued two more decisions clarifying the standards for evaluating patent infringement and validity. In Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies, Inc., the Supreme Court held that a defendant may not be found liable for inducing infringement absent direct infringement by a single entity. The mere fact that a defendant performs some steps of a claim and encourages another party to perform the remaining steps does not subject the defendant to liability for inducement. This decision highlights the importance of proper claim drafting, so as to avoid problems raised by so-called "divided infringement" cases. 

In the other decision, Nautilus v. Biosig Instruments, Inc., the Supreme Court made it easier to challenge patent claims as indefinite. Under the Federal Circuit's preexisting test, a patent claim was regarded as definite as long as it was "amenable to construction," and not "insolubly ambiguous." In vacating and remanding the case to the Federal Circuit, the Supreme Court changed that standard, holding that "[a] patent is invalid for indefiniteness if its claims, read in the light of the patent's specification and prosecution history, fail to inform, with reasonable certainty, those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention." The Supreme Court's loosening of the standard is expected to open the door for additional invalidity challenges based on indefiniteness, and only heightens the need to draft clear claims and supporting specifications that can withstand such challenges.