Argument Analysis: The Word “Substantial” May Mean “A Whole Lot”
The argument in Life Technologies v. Promega seemed to go well for the petitioners, Life Technologies, who argued that the statutory phrase “all or a substantial portion of the components of a patented invention” cannot refer to a single component of an invention, especially if that one component is merely a common commodity that has several non-infringing uses. Many of the justices’ questions seemed to be directed towards deciding not whether, but how, the decision below should be reversed.
The case involves a statute imposing patent infringement liability on U.S. companies that export “all or a substantial portion of the components of a patented invention” so as to actively induce a combination of components overseas that would infringe the patent if that combination occurred in this country. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that supplying a single important component of a patented invention is sufficient to trigger liability under the statute; under that reading of the statute, the court held Life Technologies to be infringers of Promega’s patent. Life Technologies has asked the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling; the federal government, appearing as a “friend of the court,” also supports reversal.