Deepsouth Packing Co., Inc. v. Laitram Corp.
406 U.S. 518 (1972)
Laitram had a patent on a
machine that cleaned shrimp. Deepsouth started manufacturing the
components for a similar machine. Laitram sued for infringement.
Deepsouth argued that they
never infringed on Laitram's patent because they never made the entire
machine. They just made all the individual unpatented components
(screws, blades, etc.) put them in a box, and shipped it to overseas
customers (where Laitram's US patent didn't apply).
What those customers did
with the components was none of Deepsouth's concern....
The US Supreme Court found for
The US Supreme Court found
that Laitram's patent gave them a monopoly on the machine, but couldn't
give them a monopoly on individual components.
It wouldn't be fair to let
Laitram use their patent to stop Deepsouth from making screws and
conveyor belts and such.
Obviously this was a pretty
blatant case, but what if Laitram was only making some of the parts? What percentage would they
have to make to infringe? There's no good place to draw a line.
The Court noted that if
Deepsouth assembled a machine in the US, even just to test it to see if
all the parts fit together, that would count as making the machine and be an infringement.
Congress responded to this
decision by enacting 35 U.S.C. §271(f), which made it an infringement to package up a "substantial
portion" of the components of a patented invention and send them
overseas for assembly.
Sometimes this is now known
as Deepsouth Infringement.