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Sue L. Robinson: “Innocence” Theory of Inducement Rejected

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In a recent summary-judgment opinion, District Judge Sue L. Robinson expounded on an interesting doctrinal nuance in the field of indirect infringement. Accused infringer Tellme Networks argued, among others, that its semi-automated telephone directory-assistance service did not, either directly or indirectly, infringe the patentee’s system of processing spoken information. In particular, in an effort to stave off a claim of inducement, Tellme argued that it “innocently” entered into certain customer contracts without knowledge of the patent-in-suit.

The Court rejected this innocence theory, and, in the process, explained the facts adequate to potentially defeat its application in future proceedings:

“Tellme has continued to operate, maintain, and update its directory assistance platform. Tellme has evinced no intention of ceasing such activity. Most significantly, evidence of record demonstrates that . . . Tellme has revised, amended and extended its contractual obligations to provide its hosted services. . . . Tellme has, under certain contracts, a right to modify its hosted services to avoid infringement.”

Although the Court ultimately entered judgment in favor of Tellme, the Court’s inducement discussion should nonetheless not be overlooked by litigators and those drafting service contracts.

Nuance Comms. Inc. v. Tellme Networks, Inc., C.A. No. 06-105-SLR (D. Del. April 20, 2010) (Robinson, J.).

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