by Michael Risch
The Federal Circuit’s upcoming consideration of Ariad v. Lilly has generated a fair amount of buzz among those who follow patent policy. The dispute arises from the interpretation of 35 U.S.C. 112 ¶ 1, which states in relevant part:
The specification shall contain a written description of the invention, and of the manner and process of making and using it, in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains, or with which it is most nearly connected, to make and use the same….
All agree that this language includes an “enablement” rule, which requires that the specification enable a person having ordinary skill in the art (the PHOSITA) to make and use the invention. More controversial is the phrase, “written description of the invention,” and whether that phrase entails a separate requirement apart from enabling the PHOSITA to make and use the invention. It appears that academics are split on the question, and most practitioners appear to disfavor a separate requirement.
This essay briefly describes the dispute, and then raises an important but under-theorized argument in favor of a separate written description requirement. The essay accepts the persuasive grammatical reading of the statute proposed by opponents of a separate written description requirement. This reading suggests that a patent disclosure is sufficient so long as the PHOSITA can practice the invention.
However, while enablement is necessary to satisfy Section 112, it is not sufficient. The statutory language certainly requires that an applicant identify the invention sufficiently to allow a PHOSITA to make and use it. However, even if the specification enables a PHOSITA to practice the invention, the applicant is not relieved of the obligation to identify the invention. Instead, the specification must contain a “description of the invention” even if such description would only serve to reinforce other parts of the disclosure that enable one to make and use the invention.
This reading of the statute is consistent with the grammatical breakdown of Section 112. It is also the preferred interpretation, because a description of the invention fulfills an important purpose in the patent system. The requirement ensures that the applicant actually invented the claimed subject matter. Reading description out of the statute would allow patent applicants to claim subject matter they did not invent, and would effectively rewrite nearly 120 years of precedent about the conception of inventions.
This is certainly not the only argument in favor of a written description requirement; a strong written description requirement provides policy benefits in clarifying claim scope and policing patentable subject matter. This essay leaves such benefits to the side, and focuses only on the statutory basis for the rule.
Finally, the essay considers the Ariad case and concludes, perhaps surprisingly, that under the vision of written description presented in this essay the claims at issue may well be described.
The remainder of the essay is available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1504631.