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U.S. supreme court sticks to the strict meaning of patent infringement

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There’s good news in the U.S. supreme court’s unanimous decision this week to toss out a patent infringement lawsuit brought by Akamai against a competing content delivery network, Limelight.

The court declined to open a vast new frontier for patent troll claims. Akamai, of course, isn’t a troll – it uses its patented technology to good effect – but it was trying to make the case that a partial (and thus, under law, allowable) duplication of a method it developed was actually an infringement because Limelight told customers how to complete the missing steps themselves. That was no different, Akamai said, than if it had been copied whole in the first place.

Lower courts bought that argument, but fortunately the supreme court disagreed. In the decision, Samuel Alito wrote

A method patent claims a number of steps; under this Court’s case law, the patent is not infringed unless all the steps are carried out…(a “patent covers only the totality of the elements in the claim and … no element, separately viewed, is within the grant”). This principle follows ineluctably from what a patent is: the conferral of rights in a particular claimed set of elements.

Had Akamai’s position been upheld, then the predatory bar could have gone wild and brought lawsuits against any two or more companies or consumers that were doing things that, taken together, looked anything like a patent – dubious or not – held by a troll.

There was no dissent or alternate views offered: the nine justices – left wing to right wing – spoke as one.