Whither Obviousness: Narrow Range Anticipated by Broader Range in Disclosure

By Dennis Crouch

ClearValue v. Pearl River Polymers (Fed. Cir. 2012) (Opinion by Judge Moore, joined by Judges PROST and SCHALL)

This case presents a classic law school hypothetical of an invention that is anticipated but likely not obvious. According to the appellate panel, the prior art fully discloses and enables the invention but also teaches that the proposed invention is impractical and does not work well. As discussed below, however, the anticipation holding itself is somewhat controversial because it is based upon the conclusion that a broad range disclosure found in the prior art ("less than 150 ppm") anticipates the narrower range found in the claims ("less than 50 ppm").

A jury found ClearValue’s patent valid and infringed and the district court denied the defendants motions to set the patent verdict aside. On appeal the Federal Circuit reversed based upon the appellate court's own factual finding that a single prior art reference teaches and enables each element of the asserted patent claim.

Background: The patent at issue is directed to a process for clarifying water using a flocculated suspension of aluminum along with high molecular weight quarternized polymers. The listed inventor, Richard Haase continues to be an owner of the patent and also CEO of ClearValue. Haase has filed more than 50 water purification and energy related patents and is also a graduate of the University of Missouri (ChemE + Mathematics + Economics). The defendant, Pearl River was once ClearValue’s customer but later began making its own version of the patented process.  ClearValue and Haase sued for patent infringement and for trade secret violation (for using the process without authority even before he filed for patent protection).

Anticipation versus Obviousness: The appeal focused on anticipation. Pearl River argued that all of the elements of CV's asserted claim were previously disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 4,800,039 (Hassick). The jury found otherwise. As a matter of procedure, a jury's verdict must be supported by "substantial evidence." If not, it must be set aside either by the district court or on appeal. At trial, the defendants had presented their case that Hassick taught each element of the claimed invention while the plaintiffs pointed only to "teaching away" found in patent. Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, "teaching away" is legally irrelevant to the question of anticipation. See Celeritas Techs., Ltd. v. Rockwell Int'l Corp., 150 F.3d 1354, 1361 (Fed. Cir. 1998). Rather, under 35 U.S.C. § 102 a claim will be anticipated and therefore invalid if a single prior art reference describes "each and every claim limitation and enable[s] one of skill in the art to practice an embodiment of the claimed invention without undue experimentation." Quoting Am. Calcar, Inc. v. Am. Honda Motor Corp., 651 F.3d 1318, 1341 (Fed. Cir. 2011).

Genus Species Anticipation: The only gap in the prior art disclosure was that Hassick generally disclosed "low-alkalinity systems (i.e., 150 ppm or less)" and "alkalinity of between 60-70 ppm" while the asserted patent claimed "alkalinity less than or equal to 50 ppm." In its 2006 Atofina decision, the Federal Circuit addressed a similar genus-species situation involving a narrow claimed temperature range and a broader temperature range found in the prior art. Atofina v. Great Lakes Chem. Corp., 441 F.3d 991 (Fed. Cir. 2006). In Atofina, the court held that a broad genus range disclosure in the prior art did not anticipate the narrow species range claimed. There, both the hypothetical “person having skill in the art”  (PHOSITA) and the patentee agreed that there was something special or “critical” about the claimed temperature range. The court distinguished this case from Atofina based upon its factual conclusion that “there is no allegation of criticality or any evidence demonstrating any difference across the range.”  Based upon the logical analysis that the narrow range is not critically different from the broad range, the Federal Circuit held that the claimed narrow range was fully disclosed by the broad range and therefore is unpatentable.

Comment – Whither Obviousness: Interesting notion: The mechanism that the court used to distinguish this case from Atofina are very much akin to obviousness principles — looking essentially for synergy or unexpected results that make the narrow range qualitatively different from the broad range.  It seems to me, however, that if these obviousness principles can be used to extend the anticipatory scope of prior art, then other obviousness principles (such as teaching away) should also be relevant.

Trade Secret Negated by Prior Art?: The Texas jury found Pearl River liable for trade secret misappropriations. However, the district court rejected that conclusion based upon an implicit admission by ClearValue that all of the elements of the alleged trade secret were publicly known at the time and found in the Hassick reference.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed without further analyzing the extent that public availability of knowledge in the form of a third-party prior art document is sufficient to disqualify the knowledge as a trade secret. I am not an expert on Texas trade secret law, but the at least the Restatement of Torts is clear that a trade secret “may be a device or process which is clearly anticipated in the prior art.”



USPTO Maintenance Fees

by Dennis Crouch

[This is an update of my 2009 post on the topic]

Over half of the USPTO operational budget is derived from maintenance (or renewal) fees paid by patentees. Fees are due at 3½, 7½, and 11½ years after issuance and each subsequent fee is substantially higher. Thus, under the current schedule, the first fee is $1,130, the second fee is $2,850, and the third fee is $4,730.  For the USPTO, this comes without any costs — all the work of examining is already complete.  The funds are used to subsidize ongoing examination. The USPTO has proposed to increase the maintenance fees substantially in near future as a mechanism of raising further funds for patent operations. 

The chart below shows the percentage of patents where maintenance fee payments are made for patents grouped by year of patent issuance.  The vast majority of patentees pay the first fee, but only about 50% pay all three. The 12–year delay in paying fees makes the chart appear to be missing data on the right side.

USPTO revenue from maintenance fees has been growing over time — lead primarily by an increase in the number of patents issued; an increase in the percentage of fees paid; an increase in the fees charged; and a decrease in the percentage of small entities who pay only ½ fare.


All USPTO fees are subject to market whims and macro-economic effects.  Maintenance fees are a particular problem because a decrease in maintenance fee payments does not lead to any decrease in workload for the Office. In 2009, the USPTO was suffering under a budget shortfall and I noted that the greatest cause of that shortfall was the dropping rate of renewal.

As an aside – it is interesting to note that, even though small entities receive a 50% discount on maintenance fee payments, they are much more likely to abandon their patents and not pay the mantenance fees. [Link]

The USPTO’s Proposed Fees: Understanding Context and Keeping Sight of the Big Picture

Guest Post by Rick D. Nydegger. Mr. Nydegger is the former Chair of the Patent Public Advisory Committee and a Past President of the AIPLA.

The USPTO's release last week of its Proposed Patent Fee Schedule will likely spawn a wide range of reaction. Almost certainly some will raise a "hue and cry" and claim that the USPTO is needlessly enriching its coffers in a way that unfairly disadvantages the community of USPTO users. Others, like Horacio Gutierrez, Corp. VP and Deputy GC for Microsoft, will tend toward a more balanced view. In comments posted Feb. 9, 2012, Mr. Gutierrez observed that "Arguably there is no good time for a fee increase, and some will question whether increasing fees in challenging economic times is the right thing to do. But to us, there should be no question that now is the right time to have a discussion about the benefits of investing in further improvements in patent quality and the potential costs of delaying that investment." Mr. Gutierrez is right – this is the right time to have a discussion, and that discussion, at least in the initial stages, should focus on the big picture questions:

  • How important is reaching 10 months to first action and reducing total pendency to 22.9 months by 2015? This is a major assumption that cuts across virtually all the proposed fees.
  • How important is it to build a reserve fund equivalent to 3 months of the USPTO's annual operating expense, and how quickly does that need to be done? By some estimates, the reserve may be being funded at levels ranging from 150 million to 300 million dollars per year. Does this rank in importance with reducing pendency? In other words, should the user community be willing to simultaneously fund both of these objectives through higher fee increases, or would the user community prefer to see a more gradual, staged approach to building the reserve fund so that fee increases need not be quite so steep, at least for the next few years?
  • Will the currently proposed fee schedule permit adequate investment in critical USPTO resources such as improving its IT systems, and continued hiring, training and retention of qualified examiners? What are the projected costs and time frames for accomplishing such investments in human and physical resources? And do these costs rank in importance with reducing pendency and creating a meaningful reserve fund? One could argue that investment in critical resources such as its IT systems and the hiring, training and retaining of qualified examiners is one of the best things the USPTO could do to improve and insure patent quality.

With any proposal as sweeping as this one, and particularly where the impact goes right to the bottom line, there will be a tendency to want to dig in and debate whether the fee changes proposed for each part of the USPTO examination process are justifiable. This will have a tendency to compartmentalize the debate in a way that may not be helpful. That is not to say that it is inappropriate at some stage to have a candid and probing dialogue between the Office and the user community that is designed to help the user community understand the methodology, models and assumptions behind the USPTO's proposed fees. This can only ultimately help the user community provide more meaningful response and guidance to the USPTO. But before that happens, we should first attempt to provide some sense of priority to the Office on the big picture questions, since those will impact fee setting across the board, and in a very substantial way. In other words, as users, we need to help the Office understand what is most important to us, and then be willing to help fund those priorities.

Once that happens, we can then invite the Office to share the assumptions and modeling (such as cost recovery assumptions, front-end fee vs. back end fees as mechanisms for cost recovery, etc.) that will invite productive dialogue and input on the specific fee proposals on a more individualized basis.

In any discussion of this type, the process has to begin someplace. The USPTO's Proposed Patent Fee Schedule released last week is just that – a starting point for discussion. As users of USPTO services, we will have the opportunity on Feb. 15th and Feb. 29th to engage the process and begin providing response to the Office. PPAC should be applauded for providing a set of thoughtful questions to guide those hearings, with focus on the big picture issues. Hopefully, those of us who participate in the process will understand the need to start with the big ticket issues, and will not let the discussion become embroiled in minutiae.

BPAI Appeals Cyclic Decision Making

By Dennis Crouch

The USPTO's Board of Patent Appeals (BPAI) has an incredibly large backlog of ex parte appeals pending – more than 25,000. In 2006, that figure was less than 1,000 pending appeals. Since then, the backlog has grown month-after-month-after-month. Cases being decided by the BPAI now were fully briefed more than two years ago, and began the appeal briefing process more than three years ago. Most of those are on applications filed at least five years ago with priority claims reaching back even further. The current USPTO solution is to hire more Administrative Patent Judges – 100 new judges this fiscal year with at least that many arriving next year. I agree that this is an important part of the solution. However, in my view simply hiring more judges is insufficient.

The following chart looks at the number of BPAI decisions each month. The pattern reveals the results of a performance rating system (i.e., quota system) used to judge the Judges. Ordinarily, BPAI judicial performance is reviewed two times per year, and that process is reflected in a systematic incentive for the judges to do more work at the end of the fiscal year (September) and at the midpoint (March). The chart shows those months as the high-points for BPAI output and the subsequent months as low-points.

It seems to me that the current cadre of Administrative Patent Judges have proven that they have the capability of increasing their throughput by 60% or more in any given month. But, the Judges only act on that capability when properly motivated. I hate to play the "if I were manager" game, but once these phenomena are recognized, a likely general solution is fairly obvious – provide motivation for the Judges to more often work to their potential. Economists have shown that people almost always act in their own self-interest – that's why personal incentives work. However, in a team environment, personal incentives are rarely sufficient. Most highly successful teams also rely on team and other goal oriented incentives that suggest a culture of success. In my mind, the chart showing high-effort-as-deadline-approaches suggests a commitment to personal achievement but also a lack of commitment to the broader timeliness goal of ex parte patent appeal administration. Of course, timeliness is only one variable in the time-quality-cost equation, and the other important elements cannot be ignored.

As the PTO moves to more than double the size of the Board, now is the time to make structural changes to ensure a better future for this important segment of the Office.

Note - A key feature of the chart above is that the figures for FY2012 are significantly higher than for prior years. Unfortunately, the increase in productivity is still only slowing the growth of the backlog. With the increase in judges, I expect for the backlog to begin declining by the end of this fiscal year. Further, once implemented, the proposed increased appeal fees will also tend to reduce appeals filed.

Reviewing the New USPTO Post Grant Review System with Reference to EPO Oppositions

by Dennis Crouch

Time is flying and the newly revamped host of USPTO administrated post-grant patent procedures is on its way.  As we speak, the USPTO is continuing to develop its rules and internal operating procedures for handling the new options.  This post focuses on the new post-grant review (A.K.A. opposition proceeding), which is being created by splitting the current inter partes reexamination system into two parts: post-grant review and inter partes review.  Current reexamination practice focuses solely on questions of novelty and obviousness based upon prior art in the form of printed publications. The new post-grant review system broadens the bases for review to virtually any validity challenge.   However, post-grant reviews will only be available during a 9–month window following patent issuance. 

Full implementation of the post-grant review system will not be until 2013 & 2014 because the review is only available for patents with a priority date on or after March 16, 2013. The 2013 date is also the implementation date of the new Filing-Date-Priority rules. We will, however, get a preview of the PGR system once it becomes available to go against Business Method patents beginning September 16, 2012.

EPO Opposition Popularity: Europe has a popular opposition system and there is a natural comparison between our new post-grant review and their oppositions.  Around 5% to 7% of EPO-issued patents are opposed during the 9–month post-grant window.  This figures are an order-of-magnitude greater than the proportion of US patents that go through the inter partes reexamination system.

Obstacles to US Post-Grant Popularity: I do not expect that the US system will see the same level of utilization –  at least for some time.  The major legal impediment to filing a post-grant review is the tough new threshold that requires a showing “that there is a reasonable likelihood that the petitioner will prevail with respect to at least one claim challenged.”  If the threshold is not met, the petition for review will be rejected. This threshold is substantially greater than the USPTO’s historic standard requiring a “substantial new question of patentability.” The EPO does not have a similar threshold. Rather, so long as certain formalities are met, the opposition proceeds with a full review with opportunity for appeal, etc.  That said, the EPO opposition proceeding results in cancellation or at least amendment in about 75% of cases.

The other major roadblock to popularity for US post-grant review will be cost.  Current behind-the-scenes discussion peg the USPTO filing fees at over $40,000 for a post-grant review. The equivalent fee for an EPO opposition is under $1,000 (€705).  The availability of limited discovery suggest that the legal fees for post-grant oppositions will also be fairly high.

Guest Post by Tun-Jen Chiang: Functionalism versus Faux Formalism at the Federal Circuit

Guest Post by Tun-Jen Chiang, Assistant Professor of Law, George Mason University School of Law

One of the longstanding myths about the Federal Circuit is that it is formalist.  This is usually levied by academics as a criticism, but no one does more than the Federal Circuit itself to spread the myth.  For judges, being labeled as a jurisprudential machine is a badge of honor.  Thus, even where their true motivation is clearly policy-based, judges invariably couch their opinions in legalistic terms.

The recent dissents from en banc rehearing in Retractable Technologies, Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson & Co. provide perfect examples.  The issue in Retractable is an old one: should the Federal Circuit give deference to district judges on claim construction?  Judge Moore (joined by CJ Rader) and Judge O’Malley both argued the court should.  Their dissents each begin with the assertion that the Supreme Court in Markman held that claim construction is a “mongrel practice” with both legal and factual components, and this counsels for deference to trial judges.

Let me start by debunking this legalistic argument.  The Supreme Court in Markman did not hold that claim construction is a “mongrel practice.”  It started off by observing that claim construction is intrinsically a mongrel practice, and then held that the Court would adopt a legal fiction that claim construction was a pure question of law.

Why do I say this?  If it is correct that Markman held that claim construction has a factual component, then the result under traditional common law principles is not that trial judges get to decide the factual component.  Trial judges do not decide facts; juries do.  Some well-known exceptions are for suits in equity, for jurisdictional facts, and for procedural facts.  But nobody contends that these exceptions apply.  The claim-construction-is-factual line of reasoning is a legalistic and logical dead end.

Rather, the case for deference to district judges on claim construction must succeed, if at all, entirely based on policy-based concerns.  Trial judges have better access to evidence than appellate judges, and yet they are more experienced at dealing with legal documents like patents than juries.  This is a perfectly plausible policy-based argument, and is almost certainly the true reason for Judges Moore and O’Malley to seek deference for trial judges.  Too bad they feel the need to couch the argument in formalist terms.

Operating Efficiently Post-Bilski by Ordering Patent Doctrine Decision-Making

Last year, Professor Merges and I co-authored this short article on the administration of Bilski. In light of the pending Section 101 cases and Judge Rader's opinion in Classen Immunotherapies v. Biogen, I thought I would post it here again. Download the twenty-page essay from SSRN.

Here is the introduction:

Now that the Supreme Court has decided Bilski v. Kappos, there is an enormous amount of speculation about the case's impact on patent applicants, litigants, and other participants in the patent system. Most of the commentary is concerned with the holding in Bilski, how this holding will be applied by courts and the Patent Office, and ultimately, the effect of the holding on inventors, and those who hold and seek patents.

We take a different approach; rather than try to cut through the complexity of Bilski, or predict how it will be applied, we talk about how to avoid it. We are interested in how to minimize the cost and confusion that accompany a review of patents for § 101 subject-matter eligibility. To be specific, we propose that the § 101 issue of Bilski be considered only when doing so is absolutely necessary to determine the validity of a claim or claims in a patent. We believe any claim that can be invalidated under one of the less controversial and less complex requirements for patentability—§§ 102, 103, and 112, for instance—ought to be disposed of without considering subject matter patentability. In other words, the Bilski issue should be avoided wherever it is not strictly necessary. To support this conclusion, we present a set of empirical data that indicates that the vast majority of patent claims challenged on subject matter eligibility grounds were also challenged on other patentability issues.

We set the stage for our proposal in Part II, which briefly reviews the history behind Bilski and explains its open-ended holding and individualized approach. The difficulty of applying the Bilski ruling to different types of patent claims leads us to Part III, in which we call into question an accepted (if largely implicit) principle of patent law—that the lexical priority of statutory provisions in the 1952 Patent Act dictates a necessary logical sequence of invalidity tests. We reject this widespread assumption. There is nothing in the statute that requires this.

Indeed, in Part III we argue that in many ways the very idea of a sequence of discrete patentability requirements is conceptually misleading. Claims can be and often are rejected by the Patent Office for multiple reasons, suggesting that at least certain claims suffer from defects that transcend specific statutory validity requirements. We argue further that the policy underpinnings of various requirements overlap in complex ways, so that in reality patentability doctrine does not test for a series of discrete and independent qualities that are distinct from and mutually exclusive of each other. In the same way, transcendent qualities of an invention can influence multiple doctrines simultaneously, with pioneering inventions (due to both a liberal treatment under enablement, and a broad reach under infringement doctrines) being a prime example. This demonstrates again that there is not and should not be a strong separation between various patent law doctrines. Another argument along these lines recognizes that while patentability doctrines are not discrete entities, neither is "the invention" whose validity is being considered. Patent applicants routinely present multiple, overlapping claims, all of which cover fine-grained variations on a central inventive insight or advance. So it is inaccurate to visualize patentability as a stepwise series of tests applied to a single "invention." It is not true for example that "invention X" passes § 101 and should thus proceed in logical sequence to be tested under § 102. One claim growing out of inventive insight X might present no § 101 problems at all, yet another claim in the same patent application might raise a difficult issue under this provision. Each claim, being a unique slice of the overall inventive insight, ought to be considered on its own terms, and in whatever order makes the most sense. Put another way, the mental model of a stepwise sequence of patentability determinations overlooks the highly granular nature in which different slices of the inventive concept are presented for validity testing.

This analysis is further developed in Section III.A. When a claim fails to pass muster under any single test of validity, that claim should be invalidated. No further tests should be applied. We describe this as "chain" theory of validity: once one link in the chain is broken, the claim fails, and there is no reason to proceed further. Beyond that point, any expenditure of resources on validity questions is inefficient. Pragmatic considerations enter at this point. Issues of cost, justiciability, and spillover effects are perfectly appropriate in determining the actual sequence in which validity tests are applied with respect to any particular patent claim. The non-linearity of patent validity tests, together with the principle of efficient administration, yields a simple rule: start with chain links that are, in general, easiest and cheapest to test, and when the chain fails, stop the process. That way, the costliest and most complex doctrines—the trickiest "links in the chain"— are often avoided, and in any event are put off until later. Therefore, § 101 should often be avoided, both at the Patent Office and in the courts. We justify this not only on efficiency grounds, but also by analogy to the Supreme Court rules of avoidance.

In Part IV, we apply this simple principle. It leads to several recommendations. First, though the PTO has good reasons for its longstanding practice of rejecting claims for multiple reasons, we recommend that §101 be used only as an exception or last resort even at the PTO. Next, we contend that the courts should proceed in a stepwise fashion, beginning with §§ 102, and 103, and 112, changing the order of doctrines as dictated by pragmatic considerations, and stopping as soon as a claim is conclusively invalidated. In all cases, the complex and costly process of deciding whether a claim presents patentable subject matter under § 101 should be deferred until very late in the process. Therefore, we recommend, courts should in effect hold off on the difficult task of evaluating claims under § 101—ideally deploying the full § 101 analysis only when that is essential, i.e., when a claim passes muster under the other validity doctrines.

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1953512. Thanks!

Sarnoff: Derivation and Prior Art Problems with the New Patent Act

In a new Patently-O Patent Law Journal essay, Professor Joshua Sarnoff (DePaul) highlights a set of important problems in the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. The essay, titled Derivation and Prior Art Problems with the New Patent Act focuses primarily on the elimination of 35 U.S.C. § 102(f) and its implications regarding the patentability of material that was either wholly or partially derived from another source.

Professor Sarnoff writes: 

Legislation sometimes is enacted that obviously requires either immediate revision or creative administrative and judicial interpretation. The new Leahy-Smith America Invents Act's derivation and prior art provisions fall in that category. Whether or not the move from a first-to-invent to a first-inventor-to-file system is viewed as good policy and as authorized by the Constitution, the particular changes made to the prior art provisions may not prevent or invalidate patents on inventions derived from others, i.e., when the applicant has obtained knowledge of an invention from another, original inventor and then files for a patent on the same or a similar invention. In particular, obvious inventions made with unauthorized derived knowledge will now be patentable, given the elimination of prior art section § 102(f). Absent creative interpretations by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) and the courts, the new derivation proceedings will not prevent a first filer from obtaining a patent even if the first filer's invention is merely an obvious extension of information derived from another. Further, the new act adds a narrow and poorly understood category of prior art that may generate years of needless litigation to re-settle the currently well-understood boundaries of the public domain. I discuss these problems in detail below.

There is some hope that Congress and the Administration will take Professor Sarnoff's concerns to heart.

Read the article: Joshua D. Sarnoff, Derivation and Prior Art Problems with the New Patent Act, 2011 Patently-O Patent Law Review 12 at /media/docs/2012/10/sarnoff.2011.derivation.pdf.

Prior Patently-O Patent Law Journal Articles include:

Accessing Brand-Generic Settlement Data

FTC v. Cephalon (E.D. Pa. 2010)

Peter Loftus at the Wall Street Journal has written a short article titled “Drug Firms Want Patent Documents Kept Secret.”  At issue is a large cache of brand-generic settlement data held by the FTC and DOJ. 

In 2008, the FTC sued Cephalon alleging antitrust violations based on a set of reverse-payment settlements to generic manufacturers companies. The settlements meant that Cephalon could retain market exclusivity for its major drug Provigil until 2012.


The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (“MMA”) requires pharmaceutical companies to submit (to the FTC and DOJ) most major pharmaceutical patent settlements; brand-generic marketing or licensing agreements; and generic-generic agreements regarding the 180 day exclusivity.  Up to now (and according to law), the US government has kept those settlements secret except for (1) times when it challenges a settlement as anticompetitive and (2) aggregate settlement data released in FTC reports.

In its lawsuit, Cephalon has asked the District Court to compel disclosure of the underlying settlement information. According to the defendant, the FTC has repeatedly cited its own analysis of the settlement data, and Cephalon is requesting the source materials “in order to be in a position to respond to any use of the studies in motion practice and to be able to cross-examine experts or other witnesses relying upon them.”  In response, the FTC argued that its studies should be available to the court even if it does not reveal the underlying data because “reliance on extra-record empirical studies for … facts that have relevance to legal reasoning, is a well-established practice in federal courts.”  Of course, the problem here is that the FTC is both the plaintiff and the creator of the empirical study.  In addition to the FTC, a group of 35+ pharmaceutical companies also filed a brief — arguing that the disclosure would be highly prejudicial to their interests in keeping the information secret.   (The pharma brief may have been quite expensive to draft — it was signed by lawyers from 21 different major law firms).

The MMA includes some secrecy language preventing the government from disclosing the submissions “except as may be relevant to any administrative or judicial action or proceeding.”

A Poor Man’s Tale of a Patent

John Smith's book got me thinking about the Charles Dickens 1850 essay titled “A Poor Man's Tale of a Patent.”  The essay — much like Smith's book — derides difficulty of obtaining a patent. In Dickens world, the patent applicant was forced to walk through 35–stages and spend the equivalent of $15,000 in order to obtain a patent. 

PatentLawImage066But I put this: Is it reasonable to make a man feel as if, in inventing an ingenious improvement meant to do good, he had done something wrong? How else can a man feel, when he is met by such difficulties at every turn? All inventors taking out a Patent MUST feel so. And look at the expense. How hard on me, and how hard on the country if there's any merit in me (and my invention is took up now, I am thankful to say, and doing well), to put me to all that expense before I can move a finger! Make the addition yourself, and it'll come to ninety-six pound, seven, and eightpence. No more, and no less. . . .

Look at the Home Secretary, the Attorney-General, the Patent Office, the Engrossing Clerk, the Lord Chancellor, the Privy Seal, the Clerk of the Patents, the Lord Chancellor's Purse-bearer, the Clerk of the Hanaper, the Deputy Clerk of the Hanaper, the Deputy Sealer, and the Deputy Chaff-wax. No man in England could get a Patent for an Indian-rubber band, or an iron-hoop, without feeing all of them. Some of them, over and over again. I went through thirty-five stages. I began with the Queen upon the Throne. I ended with the Deputy Chaff-wax. . . .

I will now conclude with Thomas Joy. Thomas said to me, when we parted, 'John, if the laws of this country were as honest as they ought to be, you would have come to London – registered an exact description and drawing of your invention – paid half-a-crown or so for doing of it – and therein and thereby have got your Patent.' My opinion is the same as Thomas Joy.

The British government was apparently quite moved by the essay and quickly passed the Patent Law Admendment Act of 1852 that established a single office to control patenting. It was not until 1883 that the British Patent Office began a limited examination of the patents — although even at that time the concern was only whether the specification sufficiently described the invention.  As you might expect, Dickens tale was an exaggeration.  The UKIPO reports that in 1850, a patent applicant only needed to visit seven offices (paying the appropriate fee at each).

In a recent essay, Professor Scott Kieff uses Dickens to argue against further layers of post-grant opposition procedures — writing that “[t]oday's patent system already too closely resembles the burdensome and byzantine procedures described in Dickens' A Poor Man's Tale of a Patent. Adding subsequent windows of administrative review will only make matters worse. A better direction is to strip away the range of inter partes administrative procedures and adopt the set of changes to court litigation that are proposed below.” Kief's proposed changes include “easier access to enhanced damages” and a reduction of the presumption of validity. F. Scott Kieff, The Case For Preferring Patent-Validity Litigation Over Second-Window Review And Gold-Plated Patents: When One Size Doesn't Fit All, How Could Two Do The Trick?, 157 U. PA. L. REV. 1937 (2009).




Guest Post by Martin Goetz


Back on November 30, 2009, Patently-O published my article “In Defense of Software Patents” in response to the editorial “Abandoning Software Patents” by Ciaran O’Riordan, Director of End Software Patents (posted on Patently-O on November 6, 2009) which had as its premise that software companies are trying to protect “software ideas”.


In this article I comment on the Bilski Opinion as well as give some concrete examples of software-only patents as well as hardware/software patents. Also, my previous article received hundreds of comments, many being negative, and part of this new post is in response to those negative comments.


Since the June 28th Supreme Court Bilski decision there have been many articles[1] on what the Opinion stated and inferred about the patentability of software.


The Opinion restated what previous Supreme Courts concluded: that laws of nature, physical phenomena, mathematics, mathematical formulas (by themselves), algorithms (by themselves), and abstract ideas (which would include software ideas) are not eligible for patent protection.


While the Bilski Opinion never directly questioned the patentability of software, the Justices wrote extensively about the meaning of Section 101, the meaning of the term “process” and why the test for patent eligibility should not exclusively be “the machine-or –transformation test”. Justice Kennedy, with the concurrence of all other Supreme Court members, wrote that the Information Age puts innovation in the hands of more people and raises new difficulties for the patent law (and the Patent Office) to determine who should or should not receive patent protection.[2]


My November 2009 Patently-O article “In Defense of Software Patents” produced hundreds of comments. Many wrote that they were against the patenting of software because software was an “algorithm” or “mathematics”. In that article my primary argument was that a computer software invention is as patentable as a computer hardware invention and the only difference is the mode of implementation. My thesis was that Software Product companies in the Software Industry are looking to patent a machine process and not a computer program, which is protected by the copyright law. I showed why software product companies can be viewed as high technology manufacturing entities and should be just as eligible for patent protection as computer hardware companies.   


In this article I give examples of patents where the preferred implementation of an inventive machine process is in software (via a computer program[3]), hardware (via circuitry), or a combination of both software and hardware.


There is little argument that “processes” and “machine processes” are patentable subject matter[4] The question has always been about the nature of software and what one is trying to patent. For over 40 years I have been involved in that argument since I received the first software patent in 1968 for an innovative way to sort large amounts data on a computer that had tape drives that could only read and write data in a forward direction (See Patent # 3,380,029, Sorting System, Issued April 23, 1968).


The Sorting System patent was dubbed a software patent but it could also have been a computer hardware patent. It was dubbed a software patent solely because the preferred implementation (the disclosure) was a logic chart (which is recognized by the patent office as a proper disclosure). My Sorting System patent would not have been controversial if the disclosure had been hardware circuitry since there were many hardware patents for sorting data on special-purpose computers and special apparatus. In my patent application I referenced six of those patents which all had unique hardware circuitry in their patent disclosure. Three of them are available online, courtesy of Google Patent Search[5].


From 1968 through 1980 my previous company, Applied Data Research filed Amicus briefs in the Prater & Wei, Benson, Johnson, Flook, and Diehr cases in which we argued that a machine process patentable in hardware is equally patentable in software. Here is exactly how we posed a “Question of Law” “in our 1980 Diehr brief:

Whether a computerized machine or industrial process that is patentable subject matter under 35 USC 101 when constructed with a hardware program (wired circuits) would also be patentable subject matter when constructed with a stored computer program (i.e., firmware or software)?

The USPTO is currently in agreement with that “Question of Law” when in 1996 it published its Examination Guidelines for Computer-Related Inventions (Final Version).  The Guidelines stated in its Introduction the following: “The Guidelines alter the procedure office personnel will follow when examining applications drawn to computer-related inventions and are equally applicable to claimed inventions implemented in hardware or software.”


In that 1980 Diehr brief we also posed the following argument to the Supreme Court:

An inventor demonstrates his new invention to his patent attorney with great pride; he has developed a cabinet for reading books out loud to the blind. The cabinet contains both a reading and talking computer. After the demonstration, the patent attorney responds:


What's inside the cabinet? Did you build it with software or hardware (a stored program or hardware circuitry)? If built with a hardware program, your machine would be patentable. But if you built it with a stored program, the Patent Office would say it was merely mathematics and, therefore, unpatentable.”

The example above of a hypothetical “cabinet for the blind” invention was back in 1980 in our Diehr Amicus brief.


Twenty years later, in 2000, a renowned inventor, Ray Kurzweil received a patent named Reading System which Reads Aloud From An Image Representation Of A Document. The patent disclosure shows a diagram of a monitor, scanner, speakers, and a PC computer composed of a processor, storage and a keyboard. The essence of the disclosure and the invention is a logic chart describing a machine system which interacts with a speech synchronizer and the various devices.  


The first sentence of the abstract in the patent stated “a reading system includes a computer and a mass storage device including software comprising instructions for causing a computer to accept an image file generated from optically scanning an image of a document.”


At that time, Ray Kurzweil’s company, Kurzweil Educational Systems marketed a special purpose hardware/software system called the Kurzweil 3000 Reading Machine which was marketed to the blind and poor readers. Their 2000 year patent protected this product from imitators. Today the company sells a software only system called Kurzweil 3000 and continues to have the protection of the patent system thru his original 2000 patent and with additional patents e.g., Reducing processing latency in optical character recognition for portable reading machine (which is a software-only patent).


Few would argue that the Kurzweil 3000 Reading Machine was not an invention and not deserving of a patent.


While I am a strong advocate for software-related patents I have always been opposed to the patenting of Business Method Patents (BMPs). In my 2006 article Patents: Where's the Invention? I stated that the Patent Office should do what the European Patent Convention did when it  ruled that anything that consists of "schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business, and programs for computers" is not an invention and therefore not patentable.” Justice Stevens, in his Opinion[6] also wanted to ban BMP’s from being patentable subject matter when he concluded that a method of doing business is not a “process” under 101.


Although the Bilski Opinion disallowed the Bilski application they stated that under certain conditions business methods could still be patentable subject matter. On July 27th the USPTO set up more stringent rules for the issuance of BMPs in their Interim Guidance for Determining Subject Matter Eligibility for Process Claims in View of Bilski v. Kappos. In many ways those guidelines are similar to the way computer software and hardware patents are currently being treated under the 1996 Guidelines for Computer-Related Inventions.    


One of the greatest challenges facing the Patent office today for BMPs, software or hardware patent applications is in discovering prior art and determining if there is an invention. The USPTO “Peer to Patent” pilot project” which  allows the public (including professionals in their respective fields) to comment on patent applications is still in its infancy, but offers the potential to assist the Patent Office in rejecting the large number of applications that are filed each year. The stated goal of the pilot project was to “connect the USPTO to an open network of experts online.”   Also, private companies e.g., the Article One Partners, a patent research firm, have the potential to significantly reduce the large number of patent litigation cases.


In conclusion, while I am a strong proponent of software patents I am very aware, and agree with, many of the arguments against patents because of patent trolls, frivolous patents, e.g. Amazon’s one-click patent, and frivolous patent litigation that can put companies out of business. And I support changes in the Patent Law to reduce those problems. But if one believes in the how the Patent System has fostered innovation and helped the US grow and prosper, then there is no rational reason to eliminate technology inventions that use software as its implementation.


In my previous article there were many comments from die-hards that continued to believe that software companies are trying to patent a computer program,  Whether those die-hards still  believe that a computer program is mathematics, or a mathematical formula, or an algorithm, or an abstract idea, so be it. Computer software programs are not what software companies are trying to patent. A software patent invention is on a unique machine process —- nothing more and nothing less. And the criteria should be 1. Innovation 2. A proper disclosure and 3. Usefulness — the same requirement that is the criteria for all patentable subject matter.

[1] Click below for a sample of many of these articles. Reading the Bilski Tea Leaves For What The Supreme Court Thinks Of Software Patents Comments on Bilski and Software Patents; Here's Bilski: It's Affirmed, But . . .No Decision on Software Patentability; Supreme Court Decision Raises Software Patent Questions; Supreme Court 'Bilski' ruling doesn't rule out software, business-method patents; Software patent debate rages on; Software, pharmaceutical, and business method patents survive; Patent Office Says No to Supreme Court and Software PatentsDeath Knell For Software PatentsSoftware Is Not Necessarily Business MethodSoftware Patents and Business Method Patents Still Possible after Bilski Supreme Court Decision.


[2](Underlining and bold added) (pages 9 & 10) “The machine-or-transformation test may well provide a sufficient basis for evaluating processes similar to those in the Industrial Age—for example, inventions grounded in a physical or other tangible form. But there are reasons to doubt whether the test should be the sole criterion for determining the patentability of inventions in the Information Age. As numerous amicus briefs argue, the machine-or-transformation test would create uncertainty as to the patentability of software, advanced diagnostic medicine techniques, and inventions based on linear programming, data compression, and the manipulation of digital signals. See, e.g., Brief for Business Software Alliance 24– 25; Brief for Biotechnology Industry Organization et al. 14–27; Brief for Boston Patent Law Association 8–15; Brief for Houston Intellectual Property Law Association 17–22; Brief for Dolby Labs., Inc., et al.”


The Opinion went on to state:

It is important to emphasize that the Court today is not commenting on the patentability of any particular invention, let alone holding that any of the above-mentioned technologies from the Information Age should or should not receive patent protection. This Age puts the possibility of innovation in the hands of more people and raises new difficulties for the patent law. With ever more people trying to innovate and thus seeking patent protections for their inventions, the patent law faces a great challenge in striking the balance between protecting inventors and not granting monopolies over procedures that others would discover by independent, creative application of general principles. Nothing in this opinion should be read to take a position on where that balance ought to be struck.

[3] While the implementation is in a computer program, the disclosure for one skilled in the art, are thru flow charts (also called logic charts) and thru block diagrams.

[4]. The Bilski Opinion closely examined the meaning and the words of 35 U.S.C 101. From 35 U.S.C. 101: Inventions patentable: Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent there for, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.

[5] The Sorting Patents below were described thru and/or gates, and as methods and apparatus for sorting data. Sorting Device, Fillebrown, 5/1961 #2,985,864; Sorting Apparatus, Guerber, 5/1960 #2,935,732; Apparatus for sorting of Recorded Digital data, Dirks 3/1966 #3,242,466.


[6] (page 15) Because the text of §101 does not on its face convey the scope of patentable processes, it is necessary, in my view, to review the history of our patent law in some detail. This approach yields a much more straightforward answer to this case than the Court’s. As I read the history, it strongly supports the conclusion that a method of doing business is not a “process” under §101.


Single-Attorney Prosecution; Compact Prosecution; and the USPTO Backlog

The US Patent Office has long favored a “compact prosecution” examination approach. With compact prosecution, once substantive examination begins, the Office focuses its attention on promptly conducting and concluding the examination.  By reducing the duration of substantive prosecution, it is more likely that the case will be examined by an individual examiner and less likely that the examiner will have to re-learn the technology each go-round. 

From the Patent Office perspective, the long backlog-queue does not hamper compact prosecution because substantive examination generally begins only once the patent application makes its way to the front of the backlog queue. 

The applicant perspective is somewhat different. For applicants, substantive prosecution begins with preparing the patent application and eventually continues with office action responses and potential agreement on final claim language.  I am beginning a project that looks at how the backlog impacts prosecution from the attorney side. As the first blunt analysis, I looked at the prosecution history files for 90 randomly selected recently issued patents and compared the practitioner signature of (1) the application as filed; (2) the first response to a non-final office action (if any); and (3) the issue fee transmittal.

Findings: The signing practitioner (attorney/agent) changed in 71% of the cases.  Of the cases with response to a non-final office action rejection, the practitioner that signed the application was different from the practitioner that signed the initial response 61% of the time. (+/–  11% at 95% CI).



Board of Patent Appeals

Although the Board of Patent Appeals (BPAI) is working harder than ever, its backlog continues to rise. The first chart below shows the BPAI’s inventory of undecided appeals in ex parte cases. This only includes fully-briefed appeals whose dockets have been transferred to the BPAI and does not include the thousands of other applications where awaiting briefing. The average timing from notice-of-appeal to appellate decision is 29 months.


I spoke with BPAI officials who identified the jump in early 2009 as a one-time issue involving the bulk transfer of cases that had been previously delayed.

The next chart shows the number of Ex Parte cases decided each month. The average number of cases being decided each month continues to rise. However, the chart also reveals a high month-to-month variability. That variability is explained by the BPAI judge quota system. BPAI judge performance is primarily judged two times per year, and that process is reflected in a systematic incentive for the judges to do more work in Feburary and August and then less work in March and September.


Although the BPAI is deciding more cases than ever, inventory continues to rise because more appeals are being filed than ever.

Law Review Case Note Topics for 2010-2011

Dear Law Review Editors: Please send me a note (dcrouch@patentlyo.com) to let me know about patent law focused articles that you publish in your journal so that I can highlight them on Patently-O.

Student Note Topics: Here are some suggestions for patent law focused law review topics for 2010-11 that I would like to see for my own edification. Please send me an e-mail if you choose one of these.

Kevin Collins: An Initial Comment on King Pharmaceuticals: The Printed Matter Doctrine as a Structural Doctrine and Its Implications for Prometheus Laboratories

Kevin Collins has written a new Patently-O Patent Law Journal essay discussing the recent decision in King Pharmaceuticals. [Read the full essay]

On August 2, 2010, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment of patent invalidity in King Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Eon Labs, Inc. King Pharmaceuticals is most notable for its extension of the printed matter doctrine from objects claims that recite written texts as limitations to method claims that recite speech acts as limitations.

This Essay proceeds in three parts. Part I summarizes the King Pharmaceuticals opinion. Part II argues that the opinion was correctly decided, and it offers an original thesis about the role that the printed matter doctrine should play to enforce patentees’ disclosure obligations and preserve the deep structure of the Patent Act. Assuming that King Pharmaceuticals was correctly decided, Part III addresses the necessary next step in the continuing refinement of the printed matter doctrine. The Federal Circuit must explain why claims like the claim at issue in Prometheus Laboratories v. Mayo Collaborative Services are novel.

Cite as Kevin Emerson Collins, An Initial Comment on King Pharmaceuticals: The Printed Matter Doctrine as a Structural Doctrine and Its Implications for Prometheus Laboratories, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 111 at /media/docs/2011/10/Collins.KingPharma.pdf.

Kevin Collins is a professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.

A Trademark Justification for Design Patent Rights

I have posted a new draft-article to SSRN entitled A Trademark Justification for Design Patent Rights. The article is currently in the editing process and will hopefully be published later this year in the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology.

As the title suggests, I argue that trademark theory offers the best modern justification for ongoing design patent rights. I suggest that design patents serve as an alternative rule of evidence for trade dress rights and are especially useful when trade dress rights are unavailable (or not yet available).

The Abstract: In a series of cases spanning more than one hundred years, courts and the US patent office have made clear that design patents are not to be justified by a fact that the newly invented ornamental design aids in distinguishing a company's product from those of its competitors. This article reverses that conclusion and argues instead that the trademark-like distinctiveness function that helps eliminate customer confusion is the most compelling policy justification for the continued protection of design patent rights in the US.  In cursory language, a number of courts have suggested that the foundation of design patents policy follows the same incentive-to-create approach of copyright and utility patent law. I tentatively reject this traditional incentive model as unlikely to be important in most situations involving ornamental designs.  Rather, I suggest the better justification for design patent doctrine lies in the notion that design patent rights serve as an alternative rule of evidence for trade dress protection.  However, design patents are not merely a parallel alternative to trade dress.  Rather, the existence of practical differences between the doctrines means that design patents rights are available in situations where trade dress protection is unavailable or uncertain.

This article presents a new set of empirical results to support the theoretical construct that design patents fill a gap in trade dress law protection.  Based on the data, I tentatively reject the oft-stated conventional wisdom that design patents are worthless for many because procurement is too slow, expensive, and difficult.  Rather, based on an analysis of the prosecution history files of a large sample of recently issued design patents, I conclude that the current design patent examination system operates as a de facto registration system.  Notably, more than ninety-eight percent (98%) of the patents in my study were issued without the Patent Office challenging their inventiveness. The dramatic rise in the number of design patents being issued indicates that designers find value in design patent protection, and a study of parallel design patent and trade dress litigation suggests that design patents are serving as a back-up or replacement for trade dress rights.


  • Download the article at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1656590 and click on “One-Click Download”.
  • E-mail comments to me dcrouch@patentlyo.com.
  • If you think my conclusions are obvious, it may be because I have been making similar suggestions on Patently-O for the past few years. Or else your standards are too high. :)

Michel & Nothhaft: Inventing Our Way Out of Joblessness

Judge Paul Michel and Hank Nothhaft (Tessera CEO) have written an important OP-ED for the New York Times. They argue that an important way for the US government to stimulate entrepreneurship and job growth is by giving the USPTO a large bolus of money ($1 billion) to put its affairs in order:

This would enable the agency to upgrade its outmoded computer systems and hire and train additional examiners to deal with the threefold increase in patent applications over the past 20 years. Congress should also pass pending legislation that would prohibit any more diverting of patent fees and give the office the authority to set its own fees.

. . . .

To be sure, not every patent creates a job or generates economic value. Some, however, are worth thousands of jobs — Jack Kilby’s 1959 patent for a semiconductor, for example, or Steve Wozniak’s 1979 patent for a personal computer. It’s impossible to predict how many new jobs or even new industries may lie buried within the patent office’s backlog. But according to our analysis of the data in the Berkeley Patent Survey, each issued patent is associated with 3 to 10 new jobs.

In addition, the pair suggests an “innovation tax credit” for each patent received by a small business:

To encourage still more entrepreneurship, Congress should also offer small businesses a tax credit of up to $19,000 for every patent they receive, enabling them to recoup half of the average $38,000 in patent office and lawyers’ fees spent to obtain a patent. Cost, after all, is the No. 1 deterrent to patent-seeking, the patent survey found.

For the average 30,000 patents issued to small businesses each year, a $19,000 innovation tax credit would mean a loss of about $570 million in tax revenue in a year. But if it led to the issuance of even one additional patent per small business, it would create 90,000 to 300,000 jobs.

Taken together, fully financing the patent office and creating an innovation tax credit could mean as many as 2.5 million new jobs over three years, and add up to 600,000 more jobs every year thereafter.

It only makes sense to help innovative small businesses make their way to the patent office and, once there, find it ready to issue the patents that lead to new jobs.

I have quibbles with the numbers used by the authors. However, I do think that they are on the right track in a few respects — especially with the idea that investing in incentives to innovate is a much more cost-effective and stable policy approach as compared with hiring folks to do government work.


  • As academic quibbles: 
    • The statement that “each issued patent is associated with 3 to 10 new jobs” cannot be derived from the Berkeley Patent Survey.  However, I don’t see that figure as unreasonable or unlikely. It would be helpful to see how the authors calculated this figure.
    • In addition, it is important to recognize that patents are just one step along the road toward job creation. The idea is that patents can provide confidence and stability in business potential ventures.  That confidence and stability leads to investment and job creation.

An Empirical Study of the Role of The Written Description Requirement in Patent Prosecution

Table 3[Download the Draft Essay]

Essay Overview: In the pending case of Ariad v. Eli Lilly, an en banc Federal Circuit is considering whether Section 112 of the Patent Act as properly interpreted includes a written description requirement that is separate and distinct from the enablement requirement. Although the USPTO has no direct role in the infringement dispute, the government submitted an amicus curiae brief arguing that a separate written description requirement is “necessary to permit the USPTO to perform its basic examination function.” However, when pressed during oral arguments the government could not point to any direct evidence supporting its contention.

This essay presents the results of a retrospective empirical study of the role of the written description requirement in patent office practice. It is narrowly focused on rebutting the USPTO’s claim that the separate written description requirement serves an important role in the patent examination process. To the contrary, my results support the conclusion suggested by Chief Judge Michel during oral arguments that it is indeed “exceedingly rare that the patent office hangs its case on written description.”

For the study, I analyzed 2858 Board of Patent Appeals and Interference (BPAI) patent opinions decided January-June 2009. Written description issues were decided in 123 (4.3%) of the decisions in my sample. Perhaps surprisingly, I found that none of the outcomes of those decisions would have been impacted by a legal change that entirely eliminated the written description requirement of Section 112 so long as the USPTO would still be allowed to reject claims based on the addition of “new matter” (perhaps under 35 U.S.C. Section 132). New-matter style written description requirement rejections were outcome-determinative in 20 of the 2858 cases – about 1.0% of the cases in my sample. (I am very confident that the PTO will retain its ability to make new matter rejections even if the separate written description requirement is eliminated.)

Although there may be valid reasons for retaining a separate written description requirement, this study safely leads to the conclusion that the government’s conclusory statements regarding the doctrine’s critical importance for patent examination lack a factual basis.

Continue reading the essay. [PDF]

These results fit well with those of UMKC professor Christopher Holman that he reported in his 2007 article, Is Lilly Written Description a Paper Tiger?: A Comprehensive Assessment of the Impact of Eli Lilly and its Progeny in the Courts and PTO , 17 ALB. L.J. SCI. & TECH. 1, 62 (2007).

Design Patents: Mueller & Brean

Professor Janice Mueller & Daniel Brean have posted a new working-draft article on design patent protection. The article argues "that courts and the USPTO have previously unrecognized flexibility in how they apply the nonobviousness requirement to designs." The authors recommend, inter alia, that courts (1) recognize that nonobviousness jurisprudence (e.g., KSR) has "very limited, if any, applicability to design patentability"; (2) plant patent patentability requirements serve as a better example; (3) the perspective of a non-expert ordinary observer should be used when considering nonobviousness; and (4) design anticipation should be limited to "strict identity situations."

Read the article here.

Claim Construction: A Structured Framework*

Guest post by Professor Peter S. Menell (UC-Berkeley School of Law); Matthew D. Powers (Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP); and Steven C. Carlson (Fish & Richardson PC) 

The construction of patent claims plays a critical role in nearly every patent case. It is central to evaluation of infringement and validity, and can affect or determine the outcome of other significant issues such as unenforceability, enablement, and remedies. Yet jurists and scholars have long lamented the challenges of construing patent claim terms. The Federal Circuit’s en banc decision in Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303 (Fed. Cir. 2005), stands as the most authoritative decision on claim construction doctrine. But while putting to rest various controversies, many core tensions in claim construction persist. Moreover, the decision itself does not provide a step-by-step approach to construing claims. This commentary provides a structured road map.