June 2, 2014 United States Supreme Court opinions

Limelight Networks, Inc. v Akamai Technologies, Inc. 

Akamai sued Lighthouse alleging violation of its patent on delivering web pages and other electronic data. The jury found for Akamai and this was ultimately upheld by the Federal Circuit on an inducement theory of liability. The Court unanimously reversed. It held that under 35 USC 271(b), there must be direct infringement of a patent for liability to exist. Here, Lighthouse performed all but one step outlined in the patent at issue. However, infringement would exist only if all the steps were taken. Thus, there was no liability here under 271(b). The Court rejected arguments form torts and criminal law pointing out that no interest of Akamai had been invaded here and aiding and abetting principles have not been imported into this part of the law. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

Nautilus, Inc. v Biosig Instruments, Inc.

Biosig sued Nautilus for patent infringement. Nautilus argued the phrase “spaced relationship” in the patent was ambiguous and thus the patent was invalid for lack of definiteness. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment to Nautilus. The federal circuit reversed under a “not amenable to construction or insolubly ambiguous” standard. The Court reversed and remanded. It held that 35 USC 112 paragraph 2 requires clarity in order to limit any ambiguous zones where innovation would be discouraged. It therefore adopted a rule gleaned from its prior cases that a patent is indefinite if a patent claim at the time of its filing would inform a person skilled in the art about the scope of the invention. The court explained that this rule is consistent with the patent system’s communication which is directed to those skilled in the art while understanding that language is incapable of complete precision. The case was remanded to the Federal Circuit to apply the test to the facts of this case in the first instance.

Bond v United States

Bond placed toxic chemicals on the door handle of the house of the woman who had an affair with her husband. The woman suffered a small burn on her hand as a result. Bond was charged with violating 18 USC 229(a) which implements a treaty ban on possession or use of chemical weapons. She moved to dismiss the 229(a) charge as beyond congressional power to enact. The district court and 3rd Circuit rejected the challenge and affirmed her conviction. The Court, with 3 justices concurring in judgment, reversed. The majority held that 229(a) had to be construed in light of the presumption that Congress does not intend to intrude into local criminal activity and if it does so intend must make it intention clear. Here, the operative term “chemical weapon” is best understood to reach chemical compounds used in combat situations. This keeps parents who euthanize goldfish with vinegar form being felons while allowing prosecutions in cases of terrorism or assassination. The majority was wary of affirming here as this would turn every poisoning in America into a federal case which would significantly undermine federalism. Justice Scalia, joined by Thomas in full and joined by Justice Alito as to the statutory issue, concurred in judgment arguing that 229(a) unambiguously applies to bond’s actions and the majority’s approach both improperly amends the statute and leaves it ambiguous and probably unconstitutionally vague as a result. As to the treaty power issue, he argued that the treaty power is limited to the powers set out in Article I Section 8 and are further subject to the later amendments to the Constitution. Any other reading, he argues would allow the President and Congress to grant unlimited power to the federal government which cannot be the law. Justice Thomas concurred in judgment joined in full by Scalia and in part by Alito, arguing that the treaty power exists to allow agreements with foreign countries but does not reach domestic issues. He pointed to historical practice before and shortly after the ratification of the Constitution and cases of the Court as support for his conclusion. Justice Alito concurred in judgment arguing 229(a) is beyond the scope of the treaty power as it regulates domestic affairs and there is no power granted in the Constitution which independently authorizes the statute.

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