An Objective View of Fault in Patent Infringement
59 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2010 Last revised: 11 Dec 2014
Date Written: November 29, 2010
Unlike direct patent infringement (a strict liability claim), indirect and willful infringement require the patent holder to demonstrate fault on the part of the accused infringer. The conventional approach to the fault elements of these doctrines views them as involving a subjective inquiry into the accused party’s state of mind. Inducement of infringement, for example, requires that the alleged infringer possess mental culpability for it to be found liable. The question presented by the Supreme Court’s recent grant of certiorari in Global-Tech v. SEB is the quintessential illustration of this conventional view, asking whether the “state of mind” of the accused party is one of “deliberate indifference” or “purpose.” This mens rea-based approach to fault is likely the product of indirect infringement’s origins as an adaptation of the tort theory of aiding and abetting, an intentional tort.
This paper asserts that this conventional view of fault for indirect infringement is inherently flawed, and is largely nonsensical in the modern context in which indirect infringement is assessed. In large part this is because fault in patent infringement, unlike the tort tradition in which it was developed, involves assessment of particular legal – as opposed to factual – consequences, consequences that are both rarely certain and unlikely to ever be desired.
Rather than continuing to view the fault elements of these doctrines as if they were traditional intentional torts, this paper proposes that the law should instead apply an objective test more closely tailored to the specific context in which patent infringement arises. Specifically, it suggests that a better approach is to conceive of the fault element as requiring an objective inquiry into whether a high risk of patent infringement would have been obvious to another in the accused party’s position. In addition to providing a more accurate and usable articulation of the fault element, viewing the question in terms of risk enables finer tuning of the doctrine when seeking optimal deterrence effects. Furthermore, this change would parallel recent shifts in the approach to fault in the context of willful infringement, and would be consistent with the actual normative standard being applied by courts.
Keywords: patent, inducement, contributory infringement, mental state, mens rea, recklessness
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