The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a patent ruling that Google Inc. (GOOG:US) and Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO:US) say threatens to open information-technology companies to new infringement lawsuits.
The justices today said they will hear an appeal by Limelight Networks Inc. (LLNW:US), which is fighting a suit by Akamai Technologies Inc. (AKAM:US) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology over Akamai’s patented method for redirecting requests for Internet content to ensure access during periods of high demand. The companies compete with one another in that field.
A federal appeals court said Akamai could sue Limelight even though no single company performed every aspect of the patented method. Akamai says Limelight takes all but one step and induces its customers to perform the final step.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which specializes in patent cases, ruled that Limelight could be sued for inducing infringement. The ruling marked a change for the Washington-based court, which had previously barred such suits.
Google, Cisco, Oracle Corp. (ORCL:US), Red Hat Inc. (RHT:US), Symantec Corp. and Xilinx Inc. are backing Limelight, which is based in Tempe, Arizona. Those companies said in a court filing that the decision would leave technology companies vulnerable because products like smartphones “can be used in an almost infinite combination of ways by other companies and consumers.”
The Obama administration also urged the nation’s highest court to intervene and rule for Limelight.
Akamai, which is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, told the Supreme Court it shouldn’t hear the case. The company said the rule overturned by the Federal Circuit allowed circumvention of patents “in the form of contrived ‘non-infringing’ multiple-actor scenarios.”
The Supreme Court is already preparing to consider another technology patenting case in its current term, which runs through June. In that case, the court will decide when software can be patented.
Akamai won a $45.5 million jury award at an earlier stage in the litigation. In a separate part of its ruling, the Federal Circuit said a trial judge was correct to set aside that award.
Drugmakers including Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Pfizer Inc. (PFE:US) sided with Akamai at the appeals court level.
The case is Limelight Networks v. Akamai Technologies, 12-786.
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