Supreme Court Overturns Federal Circuit on Vague Patents

In a major patent law decisions released in 2014, the US Supreme court overturned a Federal Circuit standard for determining when a patent is invalid as indefinite. The case involved a dispute between Nautilus and Biosig over a patent for a heart-rate monitor mounted on exercise equipment.
When Biosig sued Nautilus for patent infringement, Nautilus brought a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the term “spaced relationship” as used in the patent was indefinite.
The Federal Circuit found that the term was sufficiently definite and that a person “skilled in the art” would know what it meant.
The Federal Circuit had long applied a standard that patents could only be found invalid as indefinite if they were “insolubly ambiguous.” The Supreme Court found that this standard was too indulgent to patent owners.
According to the Supreme Court,
A patent is invalid for indefiniteness if its claims, read in light of the patent’s specification and prosecution history, fail to inform, with reasonable certainty, those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention… The Federal Circuit’s standard, which tolerates some ambiguous claims but not others, does not satisfy the statute’s definiteness requirement…. To tolerate imprecision just short of that rendering a claim “insolubly ambiguous” would diminish the definiteness requirement’s public-notice function and foster the innovation-discouraging “zone of uncertainty.”
The Court ordered the Federal Circuit to reconsider its decision that Biosig’s patent claim was not indefinite.
Nautilus was supported in its appeal by Amazon, Google, and other companies that complained they were often sued by non-practicing entities (sometimes called “patent trolls”) for alleged infringement of software patents with ambiguous claims.
The federal government supported the position of Biosig and asked the court to hold that a patent should not be found indefinite if the claim would be “reasonably clear” to a person skilled in the art.


One thought on “Supreme Court Overturns Federal Circuit on Vague Patents

  1. The “insolubly ambiguous” standard always seemed to provide patentees with the benefit of the doubt when it came to Section 112, 2nd. I think it’s unfortunate that the Supreme Court had to divine a new standard for definiteness.

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