Travel Sentry, Inc. v. Tropp, No. 16-2386 (Fed. Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Tropp’s patents are directed to the use of dual-access locks in airline luggage inspection. Tropp’s system permits the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to unlock, inspect, and relock checked baggage. Sentry administers a similar system and has license agreements with lock and luggage manufacturers. Under an Agreement with TSA, Sentry provides TSA with passkeys for distribution to field locations. TSA takes no responsibility for damage to baggage secured with Sentry locks but will make good faith efforts to distribute and use the passkeys. TSA does not endorse any particular system. Following earlier appeals, the district court granted summary judgment, finding that Sentry and its licensees did not infringe Tropp’s patents under 35 U.S.C. 271(a). The Federal Circuit vacated. A reasonable jury could conclude that TSA’s performance of the final two claim steps is attributable to Sentry such that Sentry is liable for direct infringement. Although the partnership-like relationship between Sentry and TSA is unique, the court should have considered evidence that TSA, hoping to obtain access to certain benefits, can only do so if it performs certain steps identified by Sentry, under terms prescribed by Sentry. Sentry can stop or limit TSA’s ability to practice the final two steps by terminating the Agreement, discontinuing its practice of replacing passkeys that are damaged or lost or changing the design of future locks such that the TSA keys no longer work.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on February 14, 2018.