Patent Law Clarified...

June 4, 2014 - In today's NYTimes the Editors write that two recent rulings by the US Supreme Court have made it easier for people to understand how patents should be written and interpreted.

"In Nautilus Inc. v. Biosig Instruments Inc., the court ruled that for a patent to be valid, its creators had to describe the essential elements of their invention and how it can be used clearly enough that a person skilled in the field could understand it with 'reasonable certainty.' ...The Government Accountability Office and legal experts have said that the Patent and Trademark Office has granted too many overly broad patents in recent years, contributing to the increase in infringement cases. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court for further review of the Biosig’s patent, which involves a heart-rate monitor."

The second ruling concerned a business methods patent that Akamai asserted against Limelight Networks. Akamai's patent covered a series of steps for transmitting Internet content such as video. Limelight carried out some of those steps while Limelight's customers carried out the remaining steps. Even though Limelight induced its customers to complete the necessary steps the Supreme Court said that Limelight was not liable and returned the case back to the appeals court.

You can read the NYTimes editorial here

It's fair to say that both rulings serve to limit the ways that patents can be asserted. However, at least in the Nautilus case, that may be positive for inventors. When there's more certainty about what a patent covers it's easier for businesses (prospective licensees) to put a value on it and easier for competitors (including inventors) to avoid infringing it. Those are good things.

As for Akamai, I don't know enough about patent law to understand the implications. Business methods patents like Amazon's infamous "one click" were a thorn in the side of Internet innovators even before Google had an algorithm or a name. Off the cuff, anything that limits the scope of business methods patents is positive. But if the concept is expanded to mean that competitors can legally sell knockoffs of my Gator-Grip in two pieces, a socket and a set of pins that are then assembled in one step by the customer to create a final product that would then violate my patents... that would be bad and could create even more uncertainty in the patent system. Please comment below if you have the expertise to clarify this concern.

- Mike

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