It is not necessary for the acts that constitute infringement to be performed by one person or entity. When infringement results from the participation and combined action(s) of more than one person or entity, they are all joint infringers and jointly liable for patent infringement. Infringement of a patented process or method cannot be avoided by having another perform one step of the process or method. Where the infringement is the result of the participation and combined action(s) of one or more persons or entities, they are joint infringers and are jointly liable for the infringement.
We discern no flaw in this instruction as a statement of law. However, the fundamental precept of the Ross invention is that the customer uses an on-site computer to view promotional information, and then initiates rapid single copy printing. A customer's placing an order with Amazon, who in turn obtains the book, even if it is printed in single copy, is not the Ross invention. Each of these components of the claimed invention is in the prior art; their combination is the patentable invention, and it is the practice of the combination that is essential to infringement. Taken separately, Amazon's method of taking orders for books is prior art; Amazon does not print books, and the immediate on-site printing of the Ross invention is absent.
The printing of a single copy of a book, using computer technology and high-speed printing, was prior art to the Ross patent. The defendants correctly point out that the Ross invention is the immediate printing and binding of a copy of a book, where the customer initiates this activity upon review of promotional information stored in a computer that is provided by the seller. Mr. Ross stressed during reexamination that the distinction of his invention over the Interpress reference is the inclusion of promotional information for customer access, and prompt book production. The Interpress reference, as described by the reexamination examiner, shows computer-stored book text and information (but not promotional information), a means for selectively retrieving a stored book, and high-speed printing plus binding with a cover. However, Interpress does not show the direct customer role contemplated in the Ross patent; that role is central to the claim construction.
We conclude that no reasonable jury could find infringement, on the correct claim construction. The judgment of infringement is reversed. Because we reverse the judgment of infringement, the damages award is vacated. As noted by the Patently-O Blog, the scope of the theory of joint infringement with respect to the court's precedent on vicarious liability will soon be before the Federal Circuit in Freedom Wirless v. Boston Communications Group.