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Method claims in the limelight — Limelight Networks v Akamai Technologies

In yet another unanimous patent decision, the US Supreme Court criticised the Federal Circuit and limited the scope of infringement for method claims in Limelight Networks Inc v Akamai Technologies Inc. In doing so, the Supreme Court has clarified that all steps of a method claim must be performed by a single actor in order for the claim to be infringed. The court acknowledged that steps performed pursuant to an agency relationship or by a party contractually obligated to perform steps can still lead to liability for infringement of a method claim. However, the court expressly rejected the Federal Circuit’s holding that third-party acts can ‘count’ towards infringement of a method claim under an inducement theory. The Supreme Court’s opinion is particularly harsh towards the Federal Circuit, declaring that the ‘Federal Circuit’s analysis fundamentally misunderstands what it means to infringe a method claim’.

In the Federal Circuit’s en banc decision that was overruled by the Supreme Court, the Federal Circuit had concluded that Limelight infringed a method claim where its customers performed one of the claimed steps. While Limelight does provide instructions to its customers and offers assistance regarding how to perform the claimed step, Limelight does not perform all of the steps of the claimed method, nor do its customers. In finding infringement of the method claim, the Federal Circuit focused on a theory of induced infringement…

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