A district court must analyze whether an alleged infringer is liable for indirect infringement by inducement even when no other entity is liable for direct infringement.

Move, Inc. v. Real Estate Alliance Ltd., No. 2012-1342 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 4, 2013).

The patentee appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the alleged infringer. The patent at issue covered a method for locating available real estate properties using a zoom-enabled map on a computer. The alleged infringer operates websites that allow users to locate available properties within a map display.  

The alleged infringer initially sought a declaratory judgment that the patentee’s patent was invalid and not infringed. After the district court’s claim construction, the parties stipulated to non-infringement. The patentee appealed. The Federal Circuit then held that the district court erred in its claim construction, and construed the claim term “selecting an area” to mean “the user or a computer chooses an area having boundaries, not when the computer updates certain display variables to reflect the selected area.”  

On remand, the district court held that the alleged infringer was not liable for direct infringement because its websites do not “select an area.” It found that the website users perform the selecting step, and that the alleged infringer “merely updates the display variables to reflect the user’s selected data.” It “also concluded that [the alleged infringer’s] systems were not liable for joint infringement because [the alleged infringer] did not exert direction or control over users who may have performed the selecting steps.”  

The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded again. While the court agreed that the alleged infringer was not liable for direct infringement, it found that the district court erred by not considering indirect infringement by inducement. The district court should have analyzed whether all claim steps had been performed, either by the alleged infringer or by other parties, and whether the alleged infringer knew of the patentee’s patent and knowingly “induced users to perform the claim steps that [the alleged infringer] did not itself perform.”  

A copy of the opinion can be found here.