Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Vita-Mix v. Basic Holding

Several issues decided on summary judgment were addressed in this decision, and certain aspects pertaining to contributory infringement and inducement are mentioned here.

Regarding contributory infringement, the court agreed that a commodity of commerce is suitable for substantial non-infringing uses non-infringing if those uses “are not unusual, far-fetched, illusory, impractical, occasional, aberrant, or experimental.” (p. 14.) However, “an infringer does not evade liability by bundling an infringing device with separate and distinct components that are capable of noninfringing use.” (p. 15.) The court found that the accused devices were capable of substantial non-infringing uses. Interestingly, it was possible that during the use of the devices in non-infringing ways, the device would occasionally infringe. This did not change the court’s analysis: “Even assuming that the device might inadvertently infringe the patent for a brief time in the majority of uses does not mean that the non-infringing use … is not substantial enough to avoid contributory liability. The analysis would be different if the [accused device] could not be operated in a non-infringing way unless the user infringed at some point. But where, as here, there is a common use that neither infringes nor requires infringement, the substantiality of that use is unaffected by any unrelated infringing operations.” (p. 16, n. 1.)

Regarding inducement, the court articulated the standard as follows: “Inducement requires a showing that the alleged inducer knew of the patent, knowingly induced the infringing acts, and possessed a specific intent to encourage another’s infringement of the patent.” (p. 16.) In this case, the court rejected the patentee’s attempt to support an inference of intent through “the product instructions and the design of the device.” (p. 17.) Since those things encouraged non-infringing uses and not infringing uses, there was no evidence that the defendant “intends to encourage infringement by its customers.” (p. 18.)