A set of recent patent infringement cases are primed to have major impacts and, some argue, inequitable effects on the current patent scheme in the United States. A problem has arisen concerning what kind of patent protection, or lack thereof, method and process patents should receive when certain steps of those methods or processes are implemented outside the U.S. Read literally, as the courts have, current law requires a method to have taken place in the U.S. for protection. But what results when a method or process patent is infringed partially in the U.S. and partially abroad? Should the patent receive protection by U.S. patent laws or has it not been infringed because the entire method has not been carried through in the U.S. from start to finish?

 

To illustrate the problem in a simple analogy, imagine a mother standing over the kitchen sink preparing dinner in full concentration. Her son and his friend sit in the middle of the kitchen floor playing catch with a ball. The mother, becoming aware of the game of catch, reprimands her son, telling him, as she has before, that the rule of the house is that catch is not to be played in the kitchen. She points to a list of rules hanging from the refrigerator that specifically states, “No catch in the kitchen.” The son waves his friend off through the kitchen door, until the son is throwing the ball from the kitchen to his friend in the living room and vice versa. Is the son still playing catch in the kitchen? Technically, he is not. A traditional game of catch requires two people, and there is only one in the kitchen. Thus, the son is not technically disobeying the rules.

 

Nonetheless, most mothers would override the written rule here, explaining to the son that his activities are meant to be included in the rule because any throwing or catching of the ball creates the same hazard. But what if the mother was bound to the rule on the refrigerator, however technically it was being read, and she could not reprimand the son further? Is the resulting restraint on the mother fair even though the son’s actions constitute, at best, an honest attempt to obey the rules or, at worst, a creative attempt to flout the rules on a technicality?

 

This is the problem facing the current U.S. patent regime with respect to process or method patents that are implemented internationally. Under this regime, a patented method is not considered infringed so long as a single step of that method takes place on foreign soil. [1] Thus, like the son who cleverly relocates his friend to the living room to avoid further trouble from his mother, alleged infringers are not technically infringing if they implement one or more steps of someone else’s patented method in a different country. [2] And like the mother who must respect the written rule on the refrigerator, courts have shown much deference to the rules that claim to deal with the extraterritorial application of patent rights, enforcing the current rule which allows this avoidance of infringement. [3] This seemingly inequitable result is one that stares U.S. patent law in the face as geographical borders erode making transnational infringement easier with each passing day….

 

Alejandro Valencia