A holding that a party induced infringement of a method claim requires a finding that a single other party infringed the claim — i.e., that a single other party performed every step of the claimed method, unless the uncompleted steps are performed by a party who is an agent of the first party or is contractually obligated to do so by the first party.

The patentee sued the accused infringer alleging induced infringement of its patent directed to an electronic method of communication between healthcare providers and patients involving personalized web pages for doctors and their patients. The district court granted summary judgment of non-infringement, as it was undisputed that a single party did not perform every step of the claimed method. The Federal Circuit affirmed, with a dissenting opinion.

On appeal, the patentee argued that the doctor-patient relationship which arose between the providers and their patients was sufficient to attribute the actions of the patient to the provider. The majority, following recent precedent, disagreed, finding that in the absence of an agency relationship or a contractual obligation, there is no viable legal theory for this attribution.

The patentee then argued that this precedent contravened ordinary principles of law regarding concerted action, which allow for joint and vicarious liability. The majority found that it was still bound by this precedent unless sitting en banc, and further found that the unique attributes of patent law, a statutory creation which allows the patentee to define its rights beforehand and specifically addresses joint tortfeasor situations by allowing indirect infringement, mandate a departure from the ordinary principles of law.

The dissent argued that the precedent was conflicting, so that the panel was bound by the earlier precedent, which allowed for the patentee’s theory of infringement. Further, the dissent argued that the majority’s decision unjustly denied protection to interactive computer-managed inventions.

A copy of the opinion can be found here.