A Good-Faith Belief In Invalidity Is Not A Defense To A Claim Of Induced Infringement

June 2015

In a 6-2 decision in Commil USA, LLC v. Cisco Systems, Inc.,[1] the Supreme Court ruled that a “good-faith” belief that a patent is invalid is no defense to a claim of induced infringement.  A belief in invalidity does not negate the knowledge requirement imposed by 35 U.S.C. § 271(b).

Commil is the owner of a patent claiming a method of providing faster, more reliable communications between base stations and user devices in a Wi-Fi network.[2]  Commil brought suit against Cisco, alleging that Cisco induced others to infringe by selling network equipment for others to use.[3] At trial, Cisco sought to introduce evidence that it had a good-faith belief in the invalidity of Commil’s patent.[4]  The district court found the evidence inadmissible, although it did not provide an explanation for its finding.[5]  The jury found Cisco liable for induced infringement.[6]  Cisco appealed the court’s exclusion of its evidence to the Federal Circuit.[7]  

The Federal Circuit held that evidence of a good-faith belief in invalidity can negate the intent required for a finding of induced infringement.[8]  The Federal Circuit stated that, for purposes of determining intent, there was no distinction between a good-faith belief in invalidity and a good-faith belief in non-infringement.[9] 

The Supreme Court vacated the Federal Circuit’s decision, holding that belief in invalidity cannot negate the knowledge requirement of 35 U.S.C. § 271(b).[10]  First confirming its holding in Global-Tech, the Supreme Court reiterated that liability for induced infringement attaches only if the defendant both knew of the patent and knew that the induced acts constituted infringement.[11]  The Court then clarified that this knowledge requirement concerns infringement and not validity.  “The language requires intent to ‘bring about the desired result,’ which is infringement.”[12]  Infringement and validity are separate issues and when infringement is at issue, validity “is not the question to be confronted.”[13]  Infringement and validity are found in different parts of the Patent Act and have been identified as alternatives in defending against a charge of infringement.[14] 

Furthermore, the Court reiterated that there is a statutory presumption that patents are valid.[15]  The Court stated that in allowing belief in invalidity to act as a defense to induced infringement “the force of that presumption would be lessened to a drastic degree, for a defendant could prevail if he proved he reasonably believed the patent was invalid. That would circumvent the high bar Congress is presumed to have chosen: the clear and convincing standard.”[16]  

The Court concluded that potential defendants may still challenge the validity of patents through USPTO review and reexamination, by filing a declaratory judgment action or by raising an invalidity defense in court.[17] 

Authored by Katherine E. Muller

[1] No. 13-896, 575 U.S. ___, slip op. (2015)

[2] Slip op. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at 3.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 4.

[8] Id. (quoting 720 F.3d 1361. 1368).

[9] Id.

[10] Id. at 9.

[11] Id. at 6 (citing Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S.A., 563 U.S. ___, slip op. at 10).

[12] Id. at 9 (citing Global-Tech, slip op. at 4).

[13] Id.

[14] Id. at 10.

[15] Id.

[16] Id. at 10-11.

[17] Id. at 12.