Willful Blindness and Patent Infringement
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In a recent decision (Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S.A.), the US Supreme Court held that Willful Blindness would make a person liable for infringement by inducement. The case involved a patent relating to a deep frier held by SEB, a French Company. A Honk Kong company, Pentalpha, reverse engineered SEB’s deep frier and developed its own version of the deep frier. Before launching the products in USA, Pentalpha asked for an opinion from a US Patent Attorney without disclosing the fact that the deep frier was developed based on SEB’s deep frier. After receiving a favourable opinion from the attorney, Pentalpha supplied the products to other companies.
Aggrieved by Pentalpha’s actions, SEB filed a suit for infringement by inducement under Section 271(1))b) of the US Patent Act and the Federal Circuit held Pentalpha liable. On appeal, the Supreme Court reviewed the facts of the case and held Pentalpha liable for infringement by inducement by applying the willful blindness doctrine. The court borrowed the doctrine from criminal law to analyze knowledge for purposes of determining Pentalpha’s liability. It stated that a person, who knowingly shields himself from necessary facts in a case would be considered to have knowledge and therefore liable for infringement.
The Court laid down a two step test for assessing infringement. If a person strongly believes that a patent exists and decides to avoid learning about it, then, according to the court, he would be said to have knowledge and therefore, liable. The new standard laid down by the Supreme Court is much stringent than that of the deliberate indifference doctrine followed earlier for such assessment.
Authored by Dr. Kalyan Kankanala C.
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