Patent Indefiniteness Standard Comes before Supreme Court

Several weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Nautilus Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc., to review the legal standard used to hold a patent claim invalid as indefinite. The specific issues being considered by the Court are: “(1) Whether the Federal Circuit’s acceptance of ambiguous patent claims with multiple reasonable interpretations — so long as the ambiguity is not “insoluble” by a court — defeats the statutory requirement of particular and distinct claiming; and (2) whether the presumption of validity dilutes the requirement of particular and distinct patent claiming.” In this case, lower courts considered whether the patent description of electrodes in a “spaced relationship” was indefinite. While the district court found that the term was indefinite, because “a spaced relationship” failed to tell the reader what the spacing should actually be, the Federal Circuit reviewed the issue under the standard that “a claim is indefinite only when it is ‘not amenable to construction’ or ‘insolubly ambiguous'”, finding that the claim language, specs, and figures provided sufficient clarity to technically versed readers as to the bounds of the term. The case has generated attention in the tech world, as the issue of “indefinite” patents has been generating considerable controversy, particular when it comes to so-called “non-practicing entities” or “patent assertion entities”, popularly known as “patent trolls”, and their use of technology patents whose descriptions many find to be ambiguous, indefinite, and over-broad. Technology firms and organizations such as Amazon, Google, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed briefs in support of the petition that brought the case before the Supreme Court, noting that patent indefiniteness had become “a growing problem of national importance” and that the Federal Circuit’s standard for patent indefiniteness “distorts patentee behavior at the USPTO” and “invites abuse and impedes innovation.” It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will adopt a much more stringent standard for determining patent indefiniteness, which might give targets of abusive patent litigation a defense against patents of questionable validity.

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