December 2017: Multiple Actor Direct Infringement

A long-accepted rule in U.S. patent law was that to find direct infringement of a method claim, performance of all claimed steps must be attributable to a single entity.  Under prior case law, the actions of a third party could only be attributed to an accused infringer if the accused infringer exercised ‘control or direction’ over the third party’s acts.

In more recent cases, the Court of Appeals indicated that the ‘direction or control’ test could be met not only where a formal contractual or agency relationship existed, but also when an alleged infringer conditioned participation in an activity or receipt of a benefit upon performance of a step or steps of a patented method and established the manner and timing of that performance.

In the case of Travel Sentry Inc. v. Tropp, the Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit had the opportunity to consider the “condition participation or benefit” portion of the test.   The Federal Circuit found the test to have been met by the defendant where the defendant administered a system that allowed lock and luggage manufacturers to make products that can be opened by the U.S. TSA (wherein the TSA performed certain of the claimed method steps pursuance to an MOU between the defendant and TSA by accepting and using passkey sets provided by the defendant which allowed the TSA to open and relock designated luggage).

 

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