Appeals Court Overturns Southern District Court of Indiana Decision in Centillion v. Qwest Communications


Washington, D.C. — The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently overturned a patent infringement decision by the Southern District of Indiana. Attorneys for Centillion Data Systems, of Indianapolis, Indiana, brought a patent infringement lawsuit against Qwest Communications, a Denver, Colorado company. Centillion, which has merged with CTI Group, owns U.S. Patent Number 5,287,270, a system for collecting, processing, and delivering information from a service provider, such as a telephone company. According to Centillion’s patent attorneys, several of Qwest Communication’s billing systems infringe upon Centillion’s patent. Qwest’s systems performed backend tracking automatically, but also allowed customers to download an application to their home computers to track their usage “on-demand.” Patent attorneys for Qwest argue that it did not infringe upon the patent because home users, not Qwest, performed some of the functions of the patented system.

Judge Tinder of the Southern District of Indiana heard the case and granted summary judgment in favor of Qwest. Centillion appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which reversed the decision below. The Court of Appeals examined the definition of “use” in ยง 271(a) of the patent infringement statute and held “that to “use” a system for purposes of infringement, a party must put the invention into service, i.e., control the system as a whole and obtain benefit from it.” The court found that it does not matter that “the user did not have physical control over the relays, the user made them work for their patented purpose, and thus “used” every element of the system by putting every element collectively into service.” The court sent the case back to the district court to resolve the disputed factual issues.

Practice Note: This type of situation is sometimes referred to as joint or divided infringement. In this case, for example, it seemed that Qwest invited its customers to infringe Centillion’s patent. This case illustrates the importance of carefully drafting patent infringement claims when joint infringement may be an issue.

The case was Centillion Data Systems, LLC v. Qwest Communications International, docket number 2010-1110, -1131. The opinion is available here:

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