Joint (or divided) infringement of a patent occurs when more than one party performs the steps of a claimed method in the patent. Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) unanimously ruled in Akamai v. Limelight that there can be a direct infringement by more than one party when one party directs or controls other parties’ infringing act. The patent in dispute is US6108703 in which claimed a method directed to delivering digital data using a content delivery network (CDN). The method consists of four steps - distributing, resolving, returning and tagging. Limelight is a CDN operator and its customers are content providers. Limelight performs three steps, distributing, resolving and returning, and its customers are contractually required to do the tagging step. The purpose of the tagging is to facilitate faster delivery of the data by assigning the specialized servers (tagged servers). In the service offering agreement, the customers are responsible for the tagging to implement the CDN service. The Court reasoned that Limelight directs or controls its customers’ act of tagging in the claimed method step because customers’ tagging was the condition for receiving Limelight’s CDN service and Limelight provides a detail method to perform the tagging.
Joint infringement issue can arise in many IoT business cases because several interconnected IoT devices from different vendors and different entities for storing and processing the data obtained by the IoT devices and providing the specific services to end users can be involved. To the patentee, the joint infringement provides opportunities to obtain the patents with more border claim and more options in enforcing and exploiting the patent. To the product/service provider without the protection of patents, the joint infringement issue requires more elaboration in designing and implementing the product/service. Following are some examples of IoT business cases that the potential joint infringement may arise.
· A healthcare solution vendor provides to healthcare providers a smart telemedicine solution including personalized web pages for doctors and their patients to communicate. Various health conditions of a patient are obtained by wearable sensors. Related smartphone app analyzes the health condition data and provides a warning signal to the patient if the analysis indicates a wrong with the patient. Then, the patient initiates the communication with the doctor to check the health condition.
· A POS solution company provides to retail shops a smart payment system including personalized services to the shop customers. The smart payment system provides discount coupons to the service participating customers’ smartphone if the customers read the coupon providers’ advertisement. The customers pay the discounted price using a NFC enable smartphone.
· A smart home solution provider provides to home integrators a smart utility management system including utility meters and sensors to measure temperature and other home environment conditions. The smart utility management system sends data obtained from the utility meters and sensors to the remote cloud storages. The gathered data are used in a big data analysis for some useful statistics. The home owners agree to the data gathering will receive some discounts for utility usages
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