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The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a patent-infringement verdict against Pentalpha Enterprises, a subsidiary of Global-Tech Advanced Innovations Inc. (GAI), for creating a household deep fryer that infringed a patent held by French appliance company SEB SA (SK.FR).
The court, in an 8-1 opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, rejected Pentalpha's argument that it couldn't be held liable for patent infringement because it didn't know of the SEB patent when it began selling the product.
Alito said the evidence in the case was sufficient to show that Pentalpha was willfully blind to the patent because it "took deliberate steps to avoid knowing" that the SEB fryer was patented.
At issue were SEB allegations that Pentalpha copied its design for making a deep fryer with an outer plastic shell that stayed cool to the touch. Pentalpha sold the allegedly infringing deep fryers to Sunbeam Products Inc., Montgomery Ward and Fingerhut Corp.
SEB said Pentalpha was deliberately indifferent as to whether such a patent existed and should not get off the hook for ignoring such legal risks.
A jury ruled in 2006 that Pentalpha infringed the SEB patent directly and also induced others to commit patent infringement. Pentalpha said a trial judge later ordered it to pay $4.9 million.
The Supreme Court took the case to clarify a legal standard for when one party can be held liable for inducing another party to commit patent infringement.
Justice Anthony Kennedy was the lone dissenter to Tuesday's ruling.
The case is Global-Tech Appliances Inc. v. SEB S.A., 10-6.
-By Brent Kendall, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9222; firstname.lastname@example.org