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September 20, 2004
Cutting Patent Claims Back Down to Size
This just in: Consumers Union, Public Knowledge and EFF are working another angle in the fight against over-broad patents: asking (PDF) the courts to take a narrow view of patent claims. Literally.
The case is Phillips v. AWH Corporation, in which a key issue is, interestingly enough, interpretation of the word "baffle" (the physical kind, not the mental one). The appeals court made a specific request for industry and public opinions on interpreting claims. According to the counsel-of-record for the brief, Joshua Sarnoff, this could be the most important patent case ever decided. "Claim meaning is the name of the game in patent law," says Sarnoff. "[The] Federal Circuit has the chance to lay down clear rules to determine claim meaning that will benefit society."
The joint amicus brief (PDF) takes aim at earlier panel decisions finding that patent claims are valid if they are not "insolubly ambiguous." Amici argue that this invites judges to impose a meaning on ambiguous claims, when they should instead reject them outright.
Later: The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) tells The Register that even narrow interpretation can't rescue software patents from the land of bad ideas: [Our] concern is that this kind of thing could give the impression that we only need to worry about bad patents, that if only patents were awarded according to the rules, properly examined and checked for prior art, everything would be OK. We don't believe that to be the case. We believe, more fundamentally, that the whole nature of patents on computer code is a mistake."
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