Patent Infringement as Criminal Conduct
Criminal and civil law differ greatly in their use of the element of intent. The purposes of intent in each legal system are tailored to effectuate very different goals. The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S.A., 131 S. Ct. 2060 (2011), however, imported a criminal concept of intent — willful blindness — into the statute for patent infringement, a civil offense, despite these differences. This importation of a criminal law concept of intent into the patent statute is novel and calls for examination. This Article compares the purposes behind intent in criminal law with the purposes behind intent in patent law to demonstrate that this importation does not achieve the policy goals of the patent regime. Criminal law jurisprudence requires an intent element for three reasons: to ascribe a level of moral blameworthiness to an act, to separate criminal from civil liability, and to shield otherwise innocently acting defendants from criminal punishment. Patent infringement actions, by contrast, lack an intent element because they almost exclusively seek to remedy economic harms. The importation of criminal concepts of knowledge into the patent infringement statute may therefore lead to unwanted consequences, particularly, higher-than-warranted burdens of proof for patent holders. To this end, equating criminal mental states to civil ones risks treating patent infringement as criminal conduct. This Article concludes by proposing that courts should examine the purposes of mental state requirements on a statute-by-statute basis.