Akamai v. Limelight: Direct Patent Infringement by Multiple Parties

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By Nelson T. Rivera

On August 13, 2015, after nearly a decade of litigation, Akamai Technologies Inc. finally won its legal battle with rival content delivery network (CDN) Limelight Networks Inc. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld Limelight’s liability for infringing Akamai’s patent, essentially reinstating a $45.5 million jury verdict from 2008 (pending resolution of certain “residual issues”).

The case, initially filed in 2006, has bounced between the Federal Circuit and the Supreme Court over the issues of “induced infringement” and “divided infringement.” Akamai accused Limelight of infringing on its patented technology for video content maintenance, storage and delivery. A jury verdict in Akamai’s favor was thrown out by the district court because Limelight itself did not perform all the steps necessary to “use” the method patent at issue and thus commit patent infringement under 35 U.S. Code § 271(a). Instead, some of the steps were performed by Limelight’s customers. Nevertheless, the Federal Circuit found Limelight liable for inducing its customers’ infringement.

After Akamai’s inducement theory was struck down by the Supreme Court, the case was sent back to the Federal Circuit to determine whether a company such as Limelight can be said to directly infringe a patent when the steps leading to infringement are “divided” between it and a third party. A unanimous 10-judge panel held that direct infringement occurs when all method steps “can be attributed” to a single entity. Applying this standard to the facts of the case, the court held that Limelight’s control over its customers’ use of its services was sufficient to attribute those customers’ actions to Limelight.

The case was watched closely by companies such as Google Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Intel Corp. Many technology companies believed that easing the rules for induced or divided infringement could expose more companies to legal claims and opportunistic litigation. The opinion could also have a direct impact of the content delivery marketplace, since the Akamai patent still has about four years of life left in it, and Akamai could consider bringing suit against other infringers of its technology.

LaRiviere Grubman frequently counsels clients with respect to the patentability of their technical innovations. If you have questions about protecting your technology, contact us at (831)-649-8800 or patents@lgpatlaw.com.

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