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Nautilus v. Biosig Instruments: SCOTUS Oral Arguments Almost Here

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on March 14, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

With oral arguments slated for April, anticipation continues to build in the U.S. Supreme Court case Nautilus Inc. v. Biosig Instruments Inc.

Stemming from the Federal Circuit, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the legal standard of invalidity for indefiniteness.

Lower Court Buildup

Biosig Instruments Inc. sued Nautilus Inc., alleging that Nautilus infringed on several claims of its patent (No. 5,337,753, or the "'753 Patent"), which refers to a heart rate monitor associated with exercise equipment and procedures. Nautilus moved for summary judgment on two issues: whether there was infringement, and whether the patent was invalid due to its vagueness.

The district court denied Nautilus' motion regarding infringement but granted the motion as it related to the patent's invalidity because of its vagueness. Biosig appealed and the Federal Circuit reversed. The appeals court held that a patent claim could only be considered legally indefinite when it is "insolubly ambiguous," or not possible for a person of ordinary skill in the area to understand and resolve.

Issues Before SCOTUS

Per SCOTUSblog, the Court is set to answer two pressing issues. The first issue is whether the Federal Circuit's standard of acceptance of patent claims -- that the patent claim's ambiguity is not "insoluble" by a court -- defeats the statutory requirement of particular and distinct patent claiming. The argument is that a claim standard of "insolubly ambiguous" accepts ambiguous patent claims with multiple reasonable interpretations and basically defeats the purpose of the statutory requirement for patents to be particular and distict. The second issue is whether the Federal Circuit's presumption of validity dilutes the requirement that a patent claim be particular and distinct.

Nautilus is arguing that the Federal Circuit misinterpreted the Patent Act in formulating and applying the "insolubly ambiguous" standard, citing 35 U.S.C. 112(b): "The specification shall conclude with one or more claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the inventor or a joint inventor regards as the invention."

Patent Troll Implications

The ruling will broadly impact the practice of patent law, but also stands to significantly impact the future of patent trolls. Depending on how the High Court rules, patent trolls may face stronger disclosure requirements in demand letters, stronger specificity requirements in infringement complaints, and requirements for greater transparency in patent ownership. In addition, they could face tougher penalties for bad-faith demand letters. That is to say, a ruling could empower the FTC to deem bad-faith demand letters an unfair or deceptive act or practice.

As we await oral arguments, we'll just have to wait and see whether the Supreme Court reverses the Federal Circuit and formulates a new, possibly stricter, standard.

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