On Friday, January 10, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court elected to take up the long running and closely watched patent dispute between Limelight Networks and its rival, Akamai Technologies Inc. At issue is whether Limelight can be held liable for performing a portion of the steps in a method patent while encouraging its customers to perform the remaining steps. Akamai was initially awarded $40 million by a jury, but in 2012, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ordered the lower court to reconsider its decision. The issue is now before the Supreme Court as to whether Limelight may be held liable for its actions.
Limelight has argued that there cannot be liability or infringement unless a single party performs every step or limitation in the patent. Conversely, Akamai contends that parties combining to perform every step or limitation of a patent may be held jointly liable for infringement, and failing to hold them liable would allow unfair circumvention the patent.
This case continues to garner significant interest from many tech giants. On one side, companies like Apple, Google, Oracle, and Cisco are supporting Limelight and voicing concerns that the lower court ruling could unfairly hold companies liable for third party infringing uses of their products that are outside of their control. On the other side, companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Pfizer Inc. are supporting Akamai and believe that the lower court ruling closed a loophole that allowed inducement of patent infringement without any penalty.
A ruling in Akamai’s favor could broaden the scope of potential infringers and infringing activities, leading to an increase in the number of patent infringement lawsuits filed. The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in April, with a decision coming in June of this year.